Tiger Woods used superb short-game shotmaking, what had been a major worry only weeks ago, and leaped into the Masters hunt by firing a four-under-par 68 in the third round.
The 14-time major champion birdied four of the first eight holes at Augusta National and, despite a closing bogey, the four-time Masters winner finished on six-under-par 210 after 54 holes in the year’s first major tournament.
“I had my chances to make this a really special round,” Woods said.
“I had it going a little bit. I missed a couple of shorties and six and seven. A realistic score would have been six or seven (under) today.”
Woods was level with world No.1 Rory McIlroy but well off the pace of leader Jordan Spieth.
“It’s in Jordan’s hands right now,” Woods said.
“He can run off and hide. He’s just playing ‘Steady Eddie.’ That’s all he has to do, handle the par-fives and stay away from bogeys.”
Woods has not won a Masters since 2005, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open and has not won any title since the 2013 WGC event at Firestone.
“I’m going to have to post something low, shoot 30 or 31 (on the front nine), at least give myself a chance on the back nine,” Woods said of his Sunday final-round strategy.
Woods, who has fallen to 111th in the world rankings, went three under on the first four holes for the first time in his Masters career, birdied the par-5 eighth, 13th and 15th holes but went right into trees off the tee at 14 and 18 on the way to bogeys.
The 39-year-old American returned to competition this week after a two-month layoff to fix his game following a career-worst 82 at the Phoenix Open and a withdrawal at Torrey Pines after 11 holes, awful chips and pitches a sign of his woes.
Woods missed last year’s Masters after back surgery and spent much of last year recovering from the various injuries, struggling to finish 72 holes either due to poor form or injury for most of the past 12 months.
But Woods’ wedges and irons were spectacular in round three, which he played alongside Sergio Garcia, whose racial comments aimed at Woods in 2013 caused the Spaniard to quickly apologize.
“I’m starting to get my feels back,” Woods said. “There are subtle things you have to do and I’m getting a feel for them.”