Tiger closes to within 1 shot of rookie Conners

The Associated Press

Tiger Woods watches his birdie putt on the third hole during the third round of the Valspar Championship on Saturday in Palm Harbor, Fla.

The Associated Press PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — Tiger Woods chipped in from behind the ninth green and the roar was unmistakable, the tree-rattling variety that belongs to only one player in golf. Moments later, Woods raised the putter in his left hand as another birdie putt dropped for a share of the lead at the Valspar Championship.

Corey Conners heard the whole round and it made him smile.

Never mind that Conners had six birdies in his round of 3-under 68 for a one-shot lead Saturday as he tries for his first PGA Tour victory. Even the players trying to beat Woods got swept up in the emotions of seeing him closer than ever to having a chance to win again.

“I can confirm he’s back. The roars are back,” said Brandt Snedeker, who was along for the ride with Woods and matched his 67. “It’s fun to hear the crowd going crazy again and realize how excited we are in having him back out here and play the way he is. He’s playing great.”

Conners, the Canadian rookie in only his 17th start on the PGA Tour as a pro, saved par from the bunker on the par-3 17th and kept his cool when his ball moved slightly on the 18th green — no longer a penalty in those circumstances — before he tapped in for par.

He was at 9-under 204 and will play with Justin Rose (66), who joined Woods and Snedeker at one shot behind. For the second straight day, Woods and his thousands upon thousands of fans will be ahead of him.

So he at least knows what to expect.

“I kind of knew what was going on without even having to see it,” Conners said. “But it will be cool. It’s fun seeing him out there today, and I’m sure he’ll be battling hard tomorrow. But hopefully, I can play my game and have a good day.”

Conners smiled when he heard the cheer for Woods when he chipped in at No. 9.

For so many years, such a roar caused far more consternation than celebration among the rest of the field. Conners grew up idolizing Woods for his 14 majors and 79 victories on the PGA Tour, and it was hard not to get caught up in so much hysteria.

Conners still settled himself with a wedge he nearly holed on No. 9 for a birdie of his own.

While Woods was dropping a shot on No. 13, Conners was across the lake at No. 12 and rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt to stretch his lead to two shots over Rose, three shots over Woods.

Most of the fans in the bleachers had their backs turned to watch Woods. It was like that all day.

“I was walking down the sixth and looked over to the fourth green,” Rose said. “I said to my caddie, ‘Have you ever seen those crowds?’ Eight-deep back there. It was a view that certainly wouldn’t have been the same had he not been playing. He’s on the leaderboard and challenging for the lead. I think it’s exciting to have him back for the casual golf fan, but now the true Tiger fans get excited.”

And that includes Woods.

“I am excited,” he said. “I feel like I’m playing a bit better and cleaner. I moved myself up the board. I know it’s packed up there, but at least I got a shot.”

Woods hasn’t won since his seven-shot victory in the Bridgestone Invitational in August 2013. He hasn’t won a tournament when trailing going into the final round since the AT&T National at Congressional in 2012.


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