Tournament host Tiger Woods overcame a shaky start to his third round at Congressional Country Club to set up a final-day showdown with defending champion Anthony Kim at the AT&T National in Maryland.
World number one Woods shot a level-par 70 to remain in the lead heading into the fourth round at 10 under par. It is a shared lead, though, as fellow American Kim posted a 68 to reach the same mark and make a date in the final pairing in Bethesda today.
Woods’ bid to win the PGA Tour tournament he hosts in the Washington DC area to benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation had suffered a series of setbacks having begun the day with a one-shot lead at 10 under par.
The 33-year-old had led Australia’s Rod Pampling with Kim in third place at eight under at the start of the day, but playing with Pampling in the final group out at the par-70 Blue Course and in front of big crowds celebrating American Independence Day, Woods immediately hit trouble, bogeying the 402-yard, par-four first hole to fall into a shared lead with Pampling at nine under.
Pampling then moved into the outright lead with a birdie at the par-four third to go to 10 under, one shot ahead of Woods, who won the Bay Hill and Memorial tournaments earlier this year.
Then the Australian bogeyed holes four and five while Woods bogeyed the par-four sixth before recording his first birdie of the day with a three at the eighth.
An eagle three followed at the 602-yard ninth but Woods then double bogeyed the par-four 11th, before a birdie at the par-five 16th helped him to what was a disappointing 70.
“Eighteen pars today, just a real consistent round,” Woods joked.
“It was a tough day out there. The wind was all over the place. It was hard to not only figure out the intensity but also the direction.
“Pamps and I got fooled a few times today. It was just one of those things where you had to grind it out and get through it.”
Kim, who on Thursday had shot a course-record 64, had also got off to a bad start with a bogey at the opening hole but he bounced back with a birdie at the third and eighth. A bogey followed at the ninth but he birdied the 12th and 16th en route to a 68 that will help Kim fulfil a dream held since he was nine.
“I used to practice thinking I was in the final round with Tiger, final putt, had to make a 10-footer to win the golf tournament, he was watching me,” Kim said.
“I’ve replayed a lot of those moments, but I have to actually not think about that. I have to go out there and stick with my game plan of getting the ball in the fairway first and foremost and just moving and attacking from there instead of worrying about what could be or what is going to happen.
“I just have to be in the moment.”
Kim admitted he was relishing the situation and confident he could successfully defend his title.
“I’m excited to be honest with you,” he added. “I’m excited to be there. I’m excited for the opportunity.
“There’s not too many chances you get to play against the best in the world at his golf tournament.
“I’ve won this tournament before, and I don’t see why I won’t have a good opportunity tomorrow.”
Woods and Kim are a shot clear of American duo Michael Allen, the 50-year-old US Senior PGA champion who shot a 65, and Cameron Beckman, whose 66 got him to nine under.
A 69 put Jim Furyk at eight under while Pampling crashed the American party to share fifth place with a 71 that featured an 83-foot birdie putt at the par-four 14th hole.
US Open champion Lucas Glover’s 68 left him at seven under, with Japan’s Ryuji Imada and New Zealander Danny Lee in a five-man group at six under.
Sweden’s Daniel Chopra finished the third round as the leading European at four under following a 72, while Justin Rose led the small British contingent at Congressional, his 69 taking him to three under for the week.
Compatriot Brian Davis shot a 74 to slip to six over while Scotland’s Martin Laird continued his tournament-leading accuracy off the tee but still slumped to a 76, seven over for the week.