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Thursday 17 April 2014

Tiger stays in front in California as McDowell fades

Tiger Woods drops his club as he makes his approach shot on the fifth hole during the third round of the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, in Thousand Oaks, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Tiger Woods drops his club as he makes his approach shot on the fifth hole during the third round of the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge golf tournament at Sherwood Country Club

Tiger Woods is in good position heading into Sunday's final round to clinch his sixth victory at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge but he will keep a wary eye on Zach Johnson, his closest challenger.

Johnson has twice finished second to Woods at the elite event hosted by the world number one, and he gave the 14-times major champion a battle royale in 2011 when they duelled for supremacy down the stretch.

Woods ending up winning that year's edition by a single shot, but needed birdies on the final two holes at Sherwood Country Club to keep the gritty Johnson at bay.

"Zach's not going anywhere," Woods told reporters after maintaining a two-stroke lead over fellow American Johnson by shooting a level-par 72 in difficult scoring conditions in Saturday's third round.

"He's consistent, he's tough and he's proven that he can win major championships," he said of the 2011 Masters champion. "So I knew that, and it was a great battle."

Woods had trailed Johnson by a shot going into the final round of the 2011 World Challenge and went on to seal victory with a birdie-birdie finish, draining a 15-footer at the 17th and a six-footer at the last.

"I had an uphill right-to-left around 17 which I pulled in there, and on 18 that little downhill right-to-lefter," Woods reflected of a win that ended a title drought of just over two years.

"I hadn't won in a while, so not only to have won my tournament but also the way I did can it against the person I did it against. He's just tough to beat."

Woods has always enjoyed competing at Sherwood Country Club and knows he is in prime position heading into the final round.

"We'll see what happens," the 14-times major champion smiled after both he and Johnson had finished birdie-par-birdie on Saturday. "I'm playing well right now, I think. I've had, what, five wins and like four seconds here at this place.

"Sherwood has certainly fit my eye, and I would love to win here. It would mean a lot to us at the (Tiger Woods) Foundation, and I'm going to try and get it done and then move to my old home course next year."

The World Challenge, which raises money for foundation projects and the six learning centers Woods has set up in the United States, will be shifting to Isleworth Country Club outside Orlando in Florida next December.

"I've played hundreds of rounds there (at Isleworth) and competed in the Tavistock Cup there a few times there as well," said Florida resident Woods.

"(Winning on Sunday) it would be special not just for myself but for the foundation and everyone who's involved with us and what we're trying to do."

Defending champion Graeme McDowell slipped from five under to two under, but fellow Northern Irishman McIlroy had a better day.

He holed six birdies, with the only blemish a double bogey at the 15th.

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