PEBBLE BEACH (CBS / AP) — Coming off an early bogey that put him eight shots behind, Tiger Woods was in a bunker to the left of the 13th fairway at Pebble Beach when he cut a 9-iron too much, sending it right of the green toward deep rough.
The ball caromed off a mound and onto the green and started rolling. And rolling. When it finally settled a foot below the hole, and the gallery’s cheers grew increasingly louder, Woods hung his head and smiled.
He went from possible bogey to unlikely birdie.
And with five birdies in a six-hole stretch, he went from the periphery of contention to the thick of it Saturday in the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, another step toward showing his game is on the way back.
“Looked like I was having a tough time making par, and I was making birdie, and off we go,” Woods said. “Sometimes, we need those types of momentum swings in a round, and from there, I made some putts.”
If nothing else, he made it interesting going into the final round of his PGA Tour debut.
Charlie Wi played bogey-free at Spyglass Hill for a 3-under 69 to build a three-shot lead over Ken Duke, who had a 65 on the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula.
Woods had a 5-under 67, his best Saturday score on the PGA Tour since the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and climbed within four shots of the lead. It’s the closest he has been to a 54-hole leader on the PGA Tour since the 2010 Masters.
Saturday at Pebble is all about the stars, as CBS Sports traditionally devotes its coverage to celebrities, from Ray Romano to Bill Murray dressed in camouflage while throwing a football to former San Francisco 49ers lineman Harris Barton.
Sunday will have some star power of its own.
Not only is Woods in the penultimate group — right in front of two players who have never won on the PGA Tour — he will be in the same group as longtime nemesis Phil Mickelson, who had a 70 at Pebble Beach despite playing the par 5s in 1 over.
Still in the mix is two-time Pebble Beach champion Dustin Johnson, former world No. 1 Vijay Singh and three-time major champion Padraig Harrington, who was two shots off the lead at one point until a sloppy finish at Spyglass for a 72.
Wi is 0-for-162 on the PGA Tour and now has to face his demons of self-doubt — along with a familiar force in golf.
Woods couldn’t convert a share of the third-round lead with Robert Rock two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, but he is showing an upward trend. He has given himself a chance to win on the back nine of his last four stroke-play tournaments.
With a new swing, it’s starting to look like the old Tiger.
“But the scenario doesn’t change,” Woods said. “The ultimate goal is to win a golf tournament.”
That’s something Wi has never done. He was at 15-under 199, and he has a 54-hole lead for only the second time on tour. He had a one-shot lead at Colonial last year and was runner-up to David Toms.
This time, Wi will be in the last group with someone in a familiar spot. Duke is winless in 142 starts.
The last two weeks haven’t been too kind to 54-hole leaders, either. Kyle Stanley lost a five-shot lead at Torrey Pines, and Spencer Levin blew a six-shot lead the following week in the Phoenix Open. Both were going for their first PGA Tour win.
Your turn, Charlie.
“I haven’t really thought about that,” Wi said, when asked if it were a blessing or a burden to be in front. “But I enjoy being in the lead. It’s a lot more fun than trying to come from behind. I know that tonight is going to be very exciting, and I’m sure I won’t sleep as well as if I’m in 50th place. But that’s what we play for, and I’m really excited.”
Woods was at 11-under 203, having lost some momentum on the front nine at Pebble by missing a few fairways and hitting some ordinary wedge shots. He closed with seven pars.
Mickelson was at 9-under 205, along with Johnson and Hunter Mahan. Harrington was at 206, while another stroke back were Singh and Geoff Ogilvy.
Wi is No. 175 in the world, while Duke is at No. 258. They have combined for 304 starts without a win. Right behind them are Woods and Mickelson, who have combined for 18 majors and 110 PGA Tour wins.
“It’s really fun, especially when the big guys are up there,” Duke said. “That’s when everyone is out there watching. If you do perform well and play well, they will be watching you, as well. It’s going to be fun.”
With a short burst of birdies, it looked as though Woods was having a blast.
He rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt on the 14th, and then had a 25-foot putt up the slope on the 15th. One of the amateurs in his group had a similar putt, so Woods was able to look at the break. He learned well, extending his left arm as he often does before the putt drops. And it did.
Woods made good birdie putts from 20 feet on the 17th and 8 feet on the 18th, where he also got a small break. Not wanting to hit driver in the first place because he couldn’t reach in two, he came out of the shot. It looked like it might go out-of-bounds until it hit a CBS spotter and settled behind the bunkers.
Woods made an easy birdie on the par-5 second, but that was hit. He had to save par on the short par-4 fourth from a bunker, and didn’t give himself enough good looks the rest of the way.
No matter. He moved up the leaderboard, higher than he has been in some time on this tour.
Woods played in the final group two weeks ago in Abu Dhabi, tied for the lead with Rock, and he had his poorest day striking the ball and finished in a tie for third. Woods played in the final group at his Chevron World Challenge at the end of last year and birdied the last two holes to beat Zach Johnson.
Woods doesn’t distinguish between tours, or even official events. Winning is winning. Losing is losing. All he sees at the moment is progress, and it’s hard to deny it.
“My bad days and bad shots are not as bad as they used to be,” Woods said.
Wi is making his own brand of progress, getting more comfortable with his swing and being in contention. He talks often about the demons in his head, which is typical of most any golfer.
“I’m sure I’ll be fighting my demons all day tomorrow and it’s how I handle myself tomorrow,” Wi said. “It’s not what other players are doing. How I handle myself tomorrow is going to be the outcome of the tournament.”
DIVOTS: Joseph Bramlett, playing on a sponsor’s exemption, made an albatross on the 11th hole at Spyglass when he holed out from 187 yards with a 6-iron. He negated that with two double bogeys and shot 73. … Among the amateurs to make the cut were Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who is playing Pebble Beach for the first time.
(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)