SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Tiger Woods produced a brilliant birdie-eagle finish to vault into a one-stroke lead over Briton Lee Westwood after Saturday’s U.S. Open third round.
Woods, who had surgery on his left knee two months ago and was limping by the end of his round, overcame a poor start with his spectacular finish to post a one-under 70 to go to three under par for the tournament at Torrey Pines.
Westwood, in search of his first major title, missed a four-foot birdie putt at the last but registered a solid 70 for a two-under total of 211.
“It was just a terrible start,” said Woods, who hit only six of 14 fairways. “I somehow got it back to under par for the day. A lot of luck was involved.”
Woods’s rivals may need a touch of luck on Sunday. The American has won all 13 of his majors after holding the lead through 54 holes.
American Rocco Mediate, who led by as much as three strokes midway through the round before stumbling late on, sank a long birdie putt at 17 to haul himself back into the tournament at one under par after a 72.
But even Mediate had to marvel at Woods’s performance.
“Completely out of his mind,” said the 45-year-old, who is bidding for his first major victory. “The stuff he does, it’s unreal.”
Overnight leader Stuart Appleby of Australia, who began at three under par, had a nightmare round on the greens, missing a slew of short putts, most notably at the fifth where he four-putted from 20 feet for double bogey on his way to a 79.
Woods began the day a shot off the pace but slumped to a double-bogey at the first to fall further back. He was five strokes behind Mediate when he came to the 13th.
But at the 614-yard, par-five hole the world number one rolled in a 60-foot, right-to-left breaker for eagle, celebrating with a series of two-handed fist pumps to wild cheers from the crowd.
Mediate began his slide with a bogey at 13, followed that with a double-bogey at 15 and another dropped shot at the 16th.
Westwood birdied 13 and pared out from there to move to the top of the leaderboard before Woods’s flourish at the end.
At the par-four 17th, Woods’s short pitch from the rough bounced once, hit the pin and fell in the cup for birdie to move him to within one of Westwood.
The customary fist-pump celebration was replaced by a sheepish grin and a laugh. “It was like, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he said. “I was just thinking, whatever you do, don’t make six here.”
At the 573-yard closing hole, Woods launched a five wood 227 yards to the green and rolled in a 40-foot putt for eagle. “I hit it up there on the green and I made a bomb,” he said.
Westwood, aiming to become the first European in 38 years to win the U.S. Open, since Tony Jacklin in 1970, insisted he was up to the task.
“It’s just the position I wanted to be in,” said the 35-year-old. “I have a good chance to win a major championship.”
Tied for fourth at one-over were 2006 champion Geoff Ogilvy (72) of Australia and American D.J. Trahan (73).
A shot further back were Australian Robert Allenby (73), Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez (74), Camilo Villegas of Colombia (71), Robert Karlsson of Sweden (75) and American Hunter Mahan
Editing by Alastair Himmer