PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Luke List can understand why he might be overlooked in the Honda Classic, even with a shot at his first PGA Tour victory.
He felt that Saturday while taking the lead.
List and Jamie Lovemark were trading birdies and keeping clean cards on the front nine at PGA National before an audience of no more than a few dozen people. Everyone else was busy watching Tiger Woods try to stay close enough to contention.
“I know I’ll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine,” List said. “It’s kind of nice having Tiger in the field now because he takes all the attention off everybody else, so you can just kind of go out and do your own thing.”
His thing was strong enough at PGA National. List finished with a pair of birdies around his lone bogey for a 4-under 66, giving him a one-shot lead over Thomas and Webb Simpson. List was at 7-under 203.
Woods made bogeys on the notorious par 3s on the back nine, and finished with a birdie for a 69. It was the first time he broke 70 on the PGA Tour in the 12 rounds since he first stepped away with a series of back surgeries after the 2015 Wyndham Championship.
And while only 10 players were ahead of him, Woods still was seven shots behind.
“I’ve got a shot going into tomorrow,” Woods said.
Thomas was never far away from the lead, and the final hour changed everything. The PGA champion had three birdies over his last five holes for a 65 to match the low round of the toughest tournament this year on the PGA Tour.
Particularly impressive was that two of those birdies were on the par-3 15th and par-3 17th, the second- and third-toughest holes at PGA National on Saturday. He essentially hit the same shot, a cut 6-iron into the wind to right pins and made 15-footers.
In between those par 3s was a tough par save when he hit out of a fairway bunker, into the wind and over the water to the back right green. He played a lofted pitch to 7 feet and holed it for par, a big improvement from the previous day when he four-putted the 16th for a double bogey.
“I felt like if I parred those holes in, I would have a great chance,” Thomas said. “But making those birdies, it will definitely give me a better chance.”
Simpson, the former U.S. Open champion who has not won in more than four years, played bogey-free for a 66, a card kept clean by a remarkable bunker save with an awkward stance behind the 15th green.
List has the lead, though it probably won’t feel like one with six players separated by only three shots. Tommy Fleetwood of England holed out from the fourth fairway for eagle and finished strong with a birdie on the 16th and an eagle on the final hole with an approach that rolled out to 8 feet. He shot a 67 and was at 205 along with Jamie Lovemark, whose round was spoiled by one shot.
Lovemark holed a chip for birdie from just off the 12th green to become the first player to reach 7 under. On the next hole from the back of the 13th green, his chip from 70 feet broke toward the middle of the cup, dove into the left side and spun out.
But his 7-iron into the wind and over the water on the 15th ballooned in the air and never had a chance, leading to double bogey.
Alex Noren of Sweden, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines, hit 3-wood that rolled out to 4 feet from the pin on No. 18 for an eagle and a 65. He was three behind.
List has enormous talent and is just starting to get the most out of it. After growing up in northern Georgia and playing at Vanderbilt, he chose to move to California about five years ago to work with Jamie Mulligan at Virginia Country Club in Long Beach.
The only other time he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead was at the 2016 Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi, held the same week as the World Golf Championship in Shanghai. He closed with a 70 and lost out to a 65 by Cody Gribble.
He says he is understanding his tendencies in his game, and mainly has learned not to press. Being consumed with a leaderboard might not be an issue, not with so many players in the mix on a golf course that can strike at any moment.
“I think until you get to 15, it really doesn’t matter to a certain degree,” List said. “I’ll try to do my own thing for most of the day, and then if there’s something I need to do in the last four or five holes, then probably take a look.”
Woods has been progressively better every day at PGA National, except for one hole – a double bogey each of the last two days – that slowed him. Saturday was an exception. He made his two bogeys on the notorious par 3s on the back nine, but he putted for birdie 14 out of 18 holes, and only one of those putts was longer than 25 feet.
“Probably the highest score I could have shot today,” Woods said.
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