LOS ANGELES – Tiger Woods had Riviera rocking with cheers that could be heard a half-mile away, three birdies and an eagle in his opening four holes for his hottest start on the PGA Tour in nearly 10 years.
On the other side of the course, and still well ahead of him on the leaderboard, Justin Thomas made a 12-foot eagle putt to take a one-shot lead over Adam Scott, who narrowly missed his eagle attempt from 10 feet.
It was the kind of Saturday drama at the Genesis Open that sets the table for the final round, with one big difference.
The third round was just getting started at rain-delayed Riviera.
“There’s so much golf to play,” Scott said. “It feels like it’s late in the tourney, but it’s only halfway.”
Thomas got a lot done in the eight holes he played Saturday – six in the morning to complete the second round, two in the twilight to at least leave Riviera with the lead. He nearly holed a 9-iron on No. 5 for a tap-in birdie, and then clipped a flop shot from the putting green and over the bunker to make par on the par-3 sixth on his way to a 6-under 65. Scott played behind him – he got in nine holes – and matched his 65 to join him in the 36-hole lead at 11-under 131.
Both made tough par saves on No. 2 in the third round. Both hit their tee shots on the next hole, wanting to get in as many holes as possible in superb conditions and to keep Sunday even a little bit shorter.
But they ran out of light.
Scott always leaves the flagstick in, anyway, but he couldn’t see it from 136 yards away. Thomas decided to mark his ball in the right rough. Play stopped across Riviera, as Woods chose to mark his ball well short of the green at the par-5 17th, where he will return to try to get up-and-down for par.
The third round was to resume at 6:45 a.m., and then the 76 players who make the cut will head right back out in the same groups.
Thomas was at 13-under par through two holes of the third round.
The seven holes Woods completed had the gallery in a frenzy.
Hours earlier, he made a 25-foot birdie putt from the fringe on his final hole of the second round for a 71 to assure he would make the cut – he ultimately made it with one shot to spare, 10 shots out of the lead – and then he looked like a different player.
Woods hit a delicate pitch to 5 feet for birdie on No. 10, hit 3-wood to 10 feet for eagle on the par-5 11th, holed a 20-foot birdie putt on the 12th and a 15-foot birdie putt on the 13th. Just like that, he was tied for 12th as the leaders were just getting going.
It was the first time since the second round of the Buick Open in 2009 that he started 5 under through four holes. Cody Gribble and Peter Malnati, playing with golf’s biggest star for the first time, could hang with him. If this was Woods against the best score of both of them, he would have been 5 up through seven holes.
Even so, Woods remained seven shots behind, with Thomas and Scott looking sharp.
Patrick Rodgers, who completed a 67, opened with an eagle and was two shots behind Thomas.
The start of the tournament was delayed seven hours by rain Thursday, and play has been trying to catch up, creating a disjointed feel to the week. Thomas said he could barely feel his toes when he warmed up Saturday morning in temperatures in the low 40s and darkness as he set out to finish the second round. He also was up before dawn on Friday to get ready to start his opening round.
Imagine how he felt when told when the third round was to resume.
“I’m still trying to get over that 6:45 a.m. start I just heard,” he said. “That’s in a couple of hours.”
Michael Thompson, who didn’t get into the tournament as the first alternate until Sunday, was at 10 under.
Rory McIlroy finished off a 63 in the morning to get back in the game, and he had one birdie through three holes in the third round. He was playing with Jordan Spieth, who had a 70 in the morning to finish four behind. Spieth three-putted for par on the opening hole, missing from 3 feet, and three-putted from the fringe on No. 3 for a bogey to fall six shots behind. He also missed a 10-foot birdie on his final shot of the day.
But there is a long way to go. Saturday night usually feels like the end is near. Instead, the final group still has just under half the tournament to go. Woods, while seven shots behind, still had 29 holes to play.
All of us have to deal with it,” Woods said. “I’ve got to get in two solid rounds. They’re pushing us to get through it. Give us a bag lunch and we’re off.”
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