By Andrew Both
CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) – Tiger Woods moved within sight of matching Sam Snead’s record of 82 PGA Tour victories, three shots clear of Hideki Matsuyama with seven holes left at the rain-affected Zozo Championship on Sunday.
Woods will resume on Monday morning at 18 under-par after 11 holes of his final round at Narashino Country Club, while local favourite Matsuyama will pick back up at 15 under with six holes left.
Nobody else is closer than six shots in what is realistically a two-horse race, which got a little bit interesting when Matsuyama notched two consecutive birdies to give himself a glimmer of hope.
But the first PGA Tour event in Japan is very much in Woods’ control and asked if he would allow himself to think of matching Snead’s mark, the American did not bat an eyelid.
“I’m trying to win, no doubt about that,” he said.
“If I do what I’m supposed to do and get the job done, then I get a W. I guess that will add up to the 82 number, but my main focus is doing what I need to do to get the W first.”
Snead recorded his 82nd victory in 1965, at the age of 52, nine years older than Woods’ current age.
It was a marathon day for the entire field, more than 10 hours and 29 holes for Woods before darkness forced the suspension of play, and certainly a stern test for a 43-year-old in his first event since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
But Woods passed with flying colours and then some in front of an enthusiastic but exceedingly polite sellout crowd that had its loyalties split between the 15-times major champion and Japan’s top player.
“Tiger, yusho (victory),” a fan called out as Woods walked towards the seventh green.
Woods for his part was pleased with the way he came through the long day.
“Today’s been a long day in the saddle. Everything held up pretty good,” he said.
“It’s not that easy, and considering that I had the stress of having the lead and being under the gun for that long, it’s a long period of time having come off of a knee procedure and haven’t really stressed it like this.”
He was also pleased with how we handled things mentally.
“Ten hours, that’s a long period of time to be focused, and in and out of focus,” he said.
“The mind tends to wander a little bit and got to grab it and make it come back and be 100 percent committed on the shot.”
While Saturday’s second round was completed behind closed doors due to muddy conditions the course was remarkably dry on Sunday, with a few damp spots but nothing more.
The greens remained extremely soft, allowing players to fire aggressively at the pins.
Woods shot 66 in the third round on Sunday morning and had a three-shot lead over Matsuyama after 54 holes, which is where it remained as darkness fell.
The final round will resume at 7.30 a.m. local time (2230 Sunday GMT).
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)