ST. LOUIS: Tiger Woods charged to within three strokes of the lead halfway through the third round at the PGA Championship on Saturday as a frenzied gallery cheered his every shot.
Ten years removed from his 14th and most recent major title, Woods displayed shades of his pre-back surgery greatness with a near-flawless front nine on the rain-soaked Bellerive course.
Taking advantage of the marshmallow-soft greens, he hit a series of precise approach shots and converted with the putter to plunder five birdies and vault to eight under par at the turn.
Only a three-putt bogey at the fifth hole halted his progress, though he put the setback quickly behind him to birdie the next three holes.
But the 42-year-old was not the only one taking advantage of a course that was there for the taking as long as one avoided the rough.
Brooks Koepka also enjoyed a sizzling start, with birdies at the first two holes, and added another at the difficult fifth to nose in front at 11-under.
He was one stroke ahead of fellow American Gary Woodland and two in front of compatriot Kevin Kisner (both five holes).
Defending champion Justin Thomas (seven holes) was among a logjam at eight-under.
A gallery more than a dozen deep among the massive sellout crowd lined every hole Woods played, and they were not disappointed – at least, those who could see through the crush of people.
Woods was among 77 players who returned early on Saturday to complete the weather-delayed second round.
Woodland was not among them, having finished his round on Friday morning.
His 10-under-par 130 score matched the lowest halfway total in major championship history, and he enjoyed a one-shot halfway lead over Kisner, and a two-shot cushion over twice U.S. Open champion Koepka.
The early start seemed to agree with Irishman Shane Lowry who grabbed birdies on two of his last three to complete an error-free 64 and join world number one Dustin Johnson, Belgian Thomas Pieters and South African Charl Schwartzel three off the halfway pace.
“It’s not like we haven’t done it before,” shrugged Lowry. “When you come to places like this, you kind of expect it, a couple of delays maybe in the week with the storms.
“Got a good night’s rest … did the business.”
Thomas, meanwhile, grabbed the spotlight by closing with three birdies over his last four holes to add momentum to his title defence with a 65, four off the pace going into the afternoon.
“I was fortunate to where I played well this morning,” said Thomas. “I don’t think I’ve ever played in front of that many people. This is the first real Tiger effect, I guess you could say.”
(Additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Ed Osmond, Neville Dalton)