SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Tiger Woods, looking sharp in every component of his game, revived memories of his former dominant self as he surged into a four-shot lead in the fog-delayed third round of the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday.
The former world number one, a six-times winner of the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, fired a three-under-par 69 on the ultra-long South course to put himself in a prime position to clinch his 75th victory on the U.S. circuit.
Woods, who began the day two strokes in front of the chasing pack after thick fog had allowed only five minutes of play on a frustrating Saturday at the coastal venue, mixed five birdies with two bogeys to post a 14-under total of 202.
At one point a commanding six shots ahead, Woods bogeyed the par-five 18th after finding a poor lie in a fairway bunker off the tee and a greenside bunker with his third shot to finish four ahead of Canadian Brad Fritsch (70).
Double heart-transplant recipient Erik Compton was a further stroke back after eagling the last for a 71 while fellow American and 2009 champion Nick Watney (71) was among a group of five players knotted at eight under.
However, Woods was in command at one of his favorite venues as he bids to win a third different PGA Tour event for a seventh time. He has already recorded seven victories apiece at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I played really, really well,” the 14-times major champion told reporters after hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation. “I putted really good. I hit the ball pretty good. It seemed like I was always in pretty good position.”
His rivals will be well aware of his stellar overall track record on the U.S. circuit where he has gone on to win 49 times out of 53 when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead, including 14 of 15 in the majors.
“I was trying to put as much pressure as I can on him,” Watney said after briefly closing to within two shots of Woods at 11 under with four birdies in five holes around the turn before stumbling with three late bogeys.
“I was kind of just treading water at the start, and then hit a nice little spurt thinking I had something going. Unfortunately, not.”
Woods made a sizzling start with two birdies in his first three holes, almost sinking a back-spinning approach at the par-four second before knocking in a three-footer at the par-three third. That put him four ahead of the chasing pack at 13 under.
He surprisingly faltered with a bogey at the fifth after hitting a perfect tee shot, misjudging his second and then chipping eight feet past the cup with his third from greenside rough.
Woods immediately recovered with a two-putt birdie at the par-five sixth but squandered a golden birdie opportunity at the par-five ninth where he missed from just four feet.
Out in two-under 34, Woods picked up another shot at the par-four 10th after hitting another pinpoint approach to five feet to regain a four-stroke cushion.
With his closest challengers all faltering, Woods extended his lead to six after a brilliant approach with a wedge to inside two feet at the par-five 13th set up his fifth birdie of the day.
He parred the next four holes before stumbling on the final hole where he splashed out of the right greenside bunker to eight feet but was unable to sink the par putt.
At best, Woods will be able to complete probably no more than nine holes in the final round on Sunday with the Farmers Insurance Open heading for its first Monday finish in 61 editions.
Editing by Frank Pingue