CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — You could feel it in the Scottish air, see it in the body language — not only from the player everyone wants to watch, but the throngs of spectators who hold their collective breath watching his every move.
Tiger Woods looked like Tiger Woods at a major championship again on Saturday in the third round of the British Open at Carnoustie.
There was a familiarity to the proceedings, from the opening tee shot until the end of the round — and particularly in the middle of it when he tied for the tournament lead with a birdie on the par-5 14th hole and had the atmosphere at Carnoustie positively electric.
The 5-under 66 Woods shot to slingshot himself up the leaderboard to 5-under and into contention — four shots back of the 9-under lead shared by Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner — was evidence of that.
So, too, were some of his daredevil par saves, like the one on the 18th hole after he nearly airmailed his tee shot into the Barry Burn way left of the fairway, laid up to 83 yards and stuffed his third shot to 3 feet of the flag.
When it was over, Woods was pleased. No. He was beyond pleased. You could read it all over his face and hear it in his words. He feels like he’s close to back again, ready to end his 10-plus-year drought without a major championship, thinking about winning No. 15.
“I’m right there,’’ Woods said. “I’ve got a chance at this, which is great.’’
Is it possible to win Sunday?
“It certainly is possible,’’ he said. “I’ve shown that I’ve been there close enough with a chance to win this year. Given what happened last few years, I didn’t know if that would ever happen again, but here I am with a chance coming Sunday in a major championship. It’s going to be fun.’’
Woods began the day six shots back of the lead and tied for 29th. He’ll begin Sunday’s final round four shots back and tied for sixth.
When Woods got off the course, Kisner and Zach Johnson, the joint 36-hole leaders, had gotten to 8-under, three clear of him. He predicted the lead number might get to 10-under before day’s end and he seemed fine with that.
By the time play was complete, he got one better than that. And only Spieth, Schauffele, Kisner, Kevin Chappell (7-under) and Francesco Molinari (6-under) stand between Woods and a 15th career major championship.
“At least I know that I will be there with a chance,’’ he said. “They won’t be too far out of reach.’’
Despite having won 14 of them, Woods has never come from behind to win a major. Don’t think ending that drought isn’t on his mind.
The 66 Woods posted was his lowest round in a major championship in seven years, dating back to the 66 he shot in the second round of the 2011 Masters, a span of 2,660 days.
It was Woods’ lowest round in an Open Championship since the second round of the 2006 British, which happens to be the last of the three times Woods carried the Claret Jug home with him.
Woods has been waiting for a round like this in a major championship for a long time and he made no effort to conceal his glee.
“That was good,’’ he said.
“That was good,’’ he said again. “I played well, I really did. I hit a lot of good shots. I really didn’t feel like I really made a bad swing until 18. I really felt like I had control of the golf ball. And on top of that, I made some longer putts, which was nice.’’
A few minutes after Woods finished his round, he stood on a walkway with his caddie, Joe LaCava, and wore an utterly satisfied look as fellow players and caddies walked past him and acknowledged his round.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve felt like this … not like this in one of these big four events,’’ Woods would say a few minutes later.
Then Woods, who hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open and hasn’t won a tournament since 2013, was asked, if he were to win Sunday, where would it rank in his career already overloaded with remarkable achievements?
“We’re not there yet,’’ Woods said. “I know what you’re trying to say in asking, but let me try and get there first. Then ask me again.’’
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