ORLANDO, Florida: Tiger Woods, set to return to the World No. 1 ranking with a victory, fired a six-under par 66 Saturday to seize a two-shot lead after the third round of the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Defending champion Woods sank 17 of 18 putts within 20 feet of the cup to finish 54 holes at Bay Hill, where he already has won seven titles, on 11-under par 205.
“I played actually halfway decent, hit a lot of good shots,” Woods said. “Made a few putts. That was the key today. I was very pleased with how I played.”
Woods made five birdies, a bogey and an eagle at the par-5 16th to grab the lead with England’s Justin Rose and Americans Rickie Fowler and John Huh sharing second on 207.
Woods, who has won 50 times in 54 tries when holding the lead entering the final round, seeks his 77th career PGA triumph — five shy of matching Sam Snead’s all-time record — in his final tuneup event for next month’s Masters.
Five days after revealing that he is dating US ski star Lindsey Vonn, the 37-year-old American put himself in position to overtake top-ranked Rory McIlroy by capturing the $6.2 million event.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the all-time record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has spent a record 623 weeks atop the world rankings.
But Woods has not paced the rankings since October of 2010 after injuries and an infamous sex scandal saw him stumble from the top 50.
Woods has won five titles in the past 12 months, a run that began at Palmer’s event last year when he won his first PGA title since the sex scandal. This year, Woods has already collected triumphs at Torrey Pines and Doral.