Reed and Cantlay ahead by three strokes; Woods struggles
In a small but strong field, such as the one in the $3.5 million Hero World Challenge, changes on the leaderboard come fast and sometimes, furiously. On Thursday, six players shared the lead at some point during a calm, windless day’s action at the Albany Golf Course.
Before the last card was signed, reigning Masters winner Patrick Reed fired a curling 12-footer for a final-hole birdie and caught up with a blemish-less Patrick Cantlay at seven-under 65 for a three-shot lead.
If Cantlay found seven birdies, including a flurry of five on the last six holes, Reed kept pace with eight birdies — most for the day — against the lone, eighth-hole bogey.
The two thrived in near-perfect conditions and attacked the pins with some quality iron-play. On these lightning quick greens, Cantlay read the lines well and stroked the putts just a shade better than his namesake.
Henrik Stenson, Dustin Johnson, 2015 winner Bubba Watson and Alex Noren took turns to share the lead before the Patricks broke away.
Five-time winner and host Tiger Woods, clearly under the weather for a few days, birdied twice on the last four holes for a 73 to be joint-second last.
Wood’s triple-bogey on the par-3 12th hole sent him tumbling to the last spot before the late birdies pulled him out of the cellar.
After two bogeys in five holes, Woods evened it with successive birdies. A great second shot on the 11th hole set him put for a possible birdie but he over-hit his first putt from fringe of the green and eventually saved par.
What followed by a horrendous triple-bogey. After landing his approach shot close to the greenside water-hazard, Woods duffed a chip saw the ball roll back into the water, behind him.
Overall, Woods drove well but his signature iron-play was nowhere close to his best. To make it worse, the putts did not come off.
Considering that the winning score here has been -18 or under, Woods needs a very low score to stay in contention over the weekend.
Ranking favourite Justin Rose, one among those with an impressive birdie-record this season, nine off the first 10 holes, fired an ‘eagle’ on the 11th to move to -3.
But the joy proved short-lived as a double-bogey on the next pushed him back. Thereafter, the World No. 2 could find only one more birdie on the remaining six holes to share the seventh place.
The scores (Americans, unless stated): 65: Patrick Cantlay, Patrick Reed; 68: Henrik Stenson (Swe), Dustin Johnson; 69: Alex Noren (Swe), Bubba Watson; 70: Justin Rose (Eng), Justin Thomas, Bryson DeChambeau; 71: Keegan Bradley, Jon Rahm (Esp), Jason Day (Aus); 72: Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler; 73: Xander Schauffele, Tiger Woods; 74: Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn).