The polite applause just didn’t seem right. The half-hearted cheers were empty. The weak golf claps were not enough for the moment.
After all, it was Tiger Woods that had just birdied his third of six holes to move just one shy of a share for the lead at the AT&T National. It was Tiger Woods that chipped in and followed with his famous fist pump that is normally met with raucous celebration. And it was Tiger Woods that earned a late tee time on Sunday and a shot at becoming the first to win multiple AT&T National titles.
After storms ravaged Congressional Country Club late Friday night, forcing tournament officials to close the event to spectators on Saturday, those limited cheers were all the he was going to get, no matter what he did on the course.
“I started off five back and I needed to make a run,” said Woods, who finished the day with a 67. “Whether we have thousands of people or we have a small handful of people out there, it doesn’t change the execution of a shot.”
Woods had a start hot enough to make opponents sweat, as his name leapt nine spots up the leaderboard. He navigated the first six greens using just five putts, helped in large part by a chip-in birdie on the par-5 sixth hole to drop to 5-under.
“Well I left myself in the correct spots,” said Woods, who trails leader Brendon de Jonge by one shot.
His miss on his second hole of the day dropped him in the front left bunker, from which he coolly knocked it to tap-in distance for an easy par.
“It’s a bunker shot I was actually trying to hole,” he said.
He rolled in a 25-foot putt for birdie on the third hole, but then pulled his tee shot 20 yards left on the fourth, just as he did on Thursday. He was able to muscle a short-iron to the middle of the fairway and leave himself with a wedge, which he promptly slung to two feet to complete a “good save.”
At six he flew the green with a short-iron, leaving himself with a tough, short-sided flop shot. With the face of his wedge opened widely, he took a full cut, popping it straight up in the air and watching as it trickled in for his third birdie to the sounds of — wait for it — soft applause.
“I felt like I got cheated on six when he chipped that ball in,” said Van Pelt, who matched Woods’ 67. “Because a normal crowd, that would have gotten really loud. So I’m disappointed I didn’t get to hear that cheer when he made that flop shot.”
Van Pelt rattled off all four of his birdies in the final five holes of the front nine, finishing the opening side with a 32.
“You know, four birdies, no bogeys,” he said. “So any time you can go around Congressional without any bogeys, you’re pleased.”
De Jonge began the day at 5-under, one shot behind Hunter Mahan. He used a quick birdie at the second and then two more at the sixth and 12th holes to take a two-shot lead over the field. He gave it back with a bogey at the 14th and finished on four consecutive pars to take the role as leader in the clubhouse heading into Sunday’s final round. Mahan finished with a 2-over 73 and sits two back from de Jonge in fifth place.
“It was actually really strange out there,” de Jonge said. “Took a little while to get used to. It’s nice to have people out there and get the buzz and kind of feed off adrenaline. But in saying that, I’m obviously very happy with my round and position going into tomorrow.”