DORAL, Fla. — In only his second year on the PGA Tour, Patrick Reed already is used to playing in the final group on Sunday — and winning.
But not against a field of stars at a World Golf Championship.
And not looking at a familiar figure in a red shirt playing in the group ahead of him.
Reed turned his game around in four holes Saturday at the Cadillac Championship and wound up with a 3-under 69 in much tamer conditions at Doral. It gave him a two-shot lead going into a final round that will prominently feature defending champion Tiger Woods for the first time this year.
Woods, who only a day earlier looked to be on the verge of shooting himself out of the tournament, delivered the low round of the week and his best round of a short season. He made eight birdies for a 66 and was only three shots behind.
“That’s fine. I’ve seen Tiger a lot on the driving range. Never had the opportunity to play with him and I still haven’t been able to play with him,” Reed said. “Whenever he’s close to the lead, he’s a guy you have to watch out for. But at the same time, I have to go and just play my own game.”
He did that beautifully on a sunny afternoon with not nearly as much wind on the new Blue Monster.
Reed rolled in a 40-foot eagle putt on No. 8, and started the back nine with consecutive birdies. He drove the green on the par-4 16th for a two-putt birdie that gave him the outright lead and finished with a two-shot lead over PGA champion Jason Dufner (68) and Hunter Mahan, who bogeyed his last hole for a 71.
Reed was at 4-under 212, the highest 54-hole score to lead at Doral since a three-way tie at 212 in 1985.
The 23-year-old Texan will be going for his third win in his last 14 tournaments, dating to the Wyndham Championship in August. He was tied for the 54-hole lead that week and won in a playoff. Reed also went wire-to-wire to win the Humana Challenge in January.
He will be in the final group with Dufner, the most recent major champion. Right ahead will be Woods and Mahan.
It’s right where Reed wants to be.
“If you have a 54-hole lead, that means you’re playing the best golf of the group through three rounds,” he said. “Tomorrow is Sunday, but at the same time, it’s another round of golf. … We’ve won twice since August. We’ve played great. And if I continue doing what I’m supposed to be doing, come Sunday afternoon, hopefully we’re holding the trophy.”
Woods made three birdie putts of about 15 feet or longer on the back nine, including a 35-footer down the slope on the par-3 15th. His goal was to get back to even par for the tournament and hope to be within five shots of the leader.
It turned out much better.
Woods was one of five players who were under par, and he goes into Sunday only three shots behind as he tries to win at Doral for the fifth time. Jamie Donaldson of Wales escaped from the palm trees right of the 18th and made par for a 71 to share fourth place with Woods.
“It was nice to get back in the tournament again,” Woods said.
The lack of big wind certainly helped with scoring and attitudes on Saturday. The average scores was 72.6, compared with 76.0 in the second round, allowing for plenty of movement on the leaderboard on a sunny afternoon in Miami. A dozen players were within five shots of the lead.
“Now it’s playing more like a normal course,” Woods said.
Dustin Johnson failed to birdie three of the par 5s and chopped up the 14th hole, which featured one shot he hit left-handed. He birdied the last hole for a 73 that put him at even-par 144, along with Miguel Angel Jimenez (69) and Zach Johnson (71).
Jimmy Walker, already a three-time winner this season who is starting to feel like contending is a habit, had a 67 and was in the group five shots behind with Bubba Watson, Graeme McDowell and Matt Kuchar.
“The tournament will not be over until the last putt drops on 18,” Mahan said. “That always happens, but it seems like you just can’t coast in here. You can’t have a big enough lead going into 18 this week. So I don’t think anyone is going to be too bothered if someone gets out to a three- or four-shot lead, because there’s so much golf out there. And there’s so much that can happen — good and bad.”
And it did on Saturday.
Woods made his move early and late, pouring in four birdies in eight holes to go out in 33 and getting under par for the first time all week with a bunker shot that narrowly cleared the lip and settled a few feet away for birdie on the 16th.
“I held it together yesterday — a long day, tough day — and that gave me a chance today,” said Woods, who scratched out a 73 in the second round. “I figured, ‘Hey, I’m only six back. That’s definitely doable, especially with the conditions and how difficult this golf course is playing. If I just get back to even par for the tournament, I’ll be right there.’ And I did one better.”
Rory McIlroy did not. The two-time major champion was only one shot out of the lead when he played his next four holes in 5-over, including a pair of double bogeys on the par 5s with shots into the water. McIlroy chipped in for birdie on the 18th for a 75 and was seven shots behind.