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NEWS: Woods One Stroke Back Of Conners Heading Into Sunday

PALM HARBOR, FLORIDA — Nobody thought the Valspar Championship would feel like a major, but to this point, it absolutely has.

The galleries were thick, lining the fairways of the Copperhead Course just as well as the oak trees draped in Spanish moss. There were roars, there was Tiger Woods producing magical moments, there was a charge from a former major champion, there was a passionate punch in the air by a Ryder Cup hero and there was a young, unproven rookie displaying nerves of steel in the face of it all.

How could you not be captivated? This is the game at its finest, and there is still one more round to go.

The final round will set up with Canadian rookie Corey Conners one stroke clear of Woods, Justin Rose and Brandt Snedeker. The three men in a tie for second have combined to win 95 times on the PGA Tour. Conners has only started 20 Tour events.

As Conners came out swinging with three birdies in his first four holes, all eyes were on Woods. He rolled in a lengthy birdie putt on No. 3 and obliterated the par-5 fifth to pick up another birdie. Four holes later, he sent the crowd — and the internet — into an absolute frenzy by holing a delicate chip on the par-4 ninth to make birdie.

“We were kind of semi-joking back at the house that I’ve hit so many good chips and none of them have gone in yet,” Woods said. “And I finally pulled one off.”

Woods curled in a gorgeous birdie putt on No. 10 to reach 8-under and held at that number for the remainder of the round, finishing with a 4-under 67. It’s the best score of his comeback and it featured a far more refined version of Woods than we have seen to this point.

He hit 14 of 18 greens and rarely found himself in stressful situations.

“I’m playing a lot cleaner,” Woods said. “It’s been really consistent.”

Standing in his path toward win No. 80 on the PGA Tour will be some formidable competition. Rose shot a 5-under 66, helped by a slam dunk approach on the par-5 11th for eagle and a late birdie on No. 15. He will play in the final pairing with Conners.

Also in at 8-under is Snedeker, who will play with Woods again tomorrow. The eight-time PGA Tour winner didn’t do anything flashy in his third round but did come up with a massive momentum-building birdie conversion on the difficult par-4 16th.

The man they are all chasing, Conners, continues to be ultra-impressive. His even-keel demeanor served him well after short par misses on Nos. 6 and 7 dropped him back to 7-under. Conners hit a perfect wedge to tap-in distance on No. 9 and followed it with birdies on Nos. 11 and 12. Another short par miss on No. 16 left him at 9-under and one clear of the field.

Conners originally missed out on Monday qualifying but ended up getting into the field as an alternate when other players withdrew. He’s taken full advantage of the situation.

“I came into here with nothing to lose,” Conners said. “I just wanted to take advantage of a good break. I felt really good about my game for the last little while and I just wanted to get another opportunity to play.”

As for being intimidated by Woods and company, Conners doesn’t seem fazed whatsoever. He heard the roars produced by players ahead of him, and he loved it.

“It put a smile on my face. It’s great to have him back and playing well.”

It sure is. And tomorrow will be another one you have to watch.


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