Tiger Survives Third-Round Rollercoaster, Leads Outright at Bay Hill
By Stephanie Wei under Tiger Woods

Despite the unfortunate disruption during his backswing on the 15th tee, causing him to pull-hook it out-of-bounds and eventually resulting in a double-bogey, Tiger Woods bounced back with a birdie on No. 16 and closed with two pars to post an even-par 71 at Bay Hill. Going into Sunday’s final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Woods, who, as you may have heard, hasn’t won a real event in more than two years, has a one-shot lead over Graeme McDowell.

The tee shot on 15 caused a lot of ruckus and outrage on the inter-webs. The sudden noise from a lady in a crowd of thousands of people wasn’t intentional or malicious. Here’s what happened, according to Tiger (or what he was told):

“There was an 18-year-old kid that passed out right at the concession stand, hit, and she yelled, and it happened to be right in midway on my downswing, and I tried to stop it but I passed the point of no return. I stopped it and flipped it out-of-bounds…

“It was a solid day. Just happened to have just one little fluke thing where a kid passed out.”

One colleague, who was standing on the tee-box, said he didn’t hear anything, but others did.

It’s possible to have missed it since the area around the 15th tee is a confluence of congestion. First, it’s next to road that experiences heavy traffic, with cars, trucks and buses constantly passing through because it leads to the main entrance at Bay Hill. It’s also a double tee-box, with the 11th and 15th perpendicular to each other.

There wasn’t a group playing 11 since he was in the last group, but that probably wouldn’t have mattered because of the always-massive Tiger horde. With the way it’s roped off, it’s a traffic nightmare for pedestrians. Then you’ve got the people crossing the road because of the course routing — the front nine and No. 10 are on the same side, along with the clubhouse, and then you traverse across the street to No. 11 and the rest of the back nine. Basically, there’s<em> a lot</em> going on.

IMHO an accidental yell in a player’s backswing is analogous to a player’s ball hitting a sprinkler head and bouncing into a hazard, or as we also witnessed today, Bubba Watson’s ball kicked off a rock onto the green (instead of backwards into the water) on No. 18. When you have thousands of people at a sporting event and in an outdoor area, there’s always an off-chance of crappy timing and someone/something making an unexpected noise at the wrong time. The way I see it, the bad breaks ultimately even out with the good ones we get.

Besides McDowell, who tamed Tiger at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge, Ernie Els, Ian Poulter, Charles Howell III, Johnson Wagner, Kevin Na and Charlie Wi are all within five shots of Tiger, who is 10-under through 54 holes.

Since his fall from grace in 2009, Tiger’s had some trouble closing or putting on the finishing touches, so to speak. Can he finally break the pattern? For what it’s worth, he’s won six times here, so it’s as good of a place as any to get it done.

Of 52 previous 54-hole leads/co-leads at PGA Tour events, Tiger, the formerly best frontrunner ever (besides Stevie Williams), has converted 48 into wins. His most recent 54-hole lead was the 2009 BMW Championship, where he won — and also represents his last official victory on this tour.

Will he pull an “Old Tiger” and do something crazy awesome, like dropping a 30-foot bomb on the 72nd hole for a walk-off birdie to beat Sean O’Hair in 2009? (For the record, pre-scandal Tiger no longer exists; he’s a different person and player now, but that doesn’t mean he still won’t break Jack’s major record or win multiple times a year again.) Or will another Robert-Rock-like-situation happen again? (Rock played with Tiger in the final round and whooped him.) Or will it be deja-Pebble Beach? I mean, I was convinced Tiger would win by five that Sunday, instead he shot 75 and got lapped, so to speak, by frenemy/nemesis Phil Mickelson.

Stay tuned.

“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” said Tiger when asked what a win would mean. “I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing and competing again. As far as what it would mean, it would mean No. 72 (career wins on the PGA Tour). Nod a bad number, either.”

As tired as he is of answering those types of questions and being reminded he hasn’t won in over two years, I think most of us are pretty tired of hearing them asked, too. I mean, it’s not like he says anything different. (At the same time we, the evil media, sometimes have to ask such daft and annoying questions to elicit a quote of some sort.)

Predictions? Thoughts? Go Ernie.

(Hat tip to Yahoo on the video.)