Rookie Corey Conners of Canada had Tiger Woods in his sights all day and never blinked, even when Tiger tied him for the lead in the Valspar Championship.
The 26-year-old Conners, playing one group behind Woods, shot 3-under-par 68 to take a one-stroke lead over Woods, Justin Rose of England and Brandt Snedeker after three rounds on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.
“I obviously grew up watching Tiger and kind of idolized Tiger, and seeing that today was really cool,” said Conners, who made the field this week as an alternate when Kyle Stanley withdrew at the last minute. “A couple big roars put a smile on my face.
“I came in here with nothing to lose. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It will be a good challenge.”
Conners, who has led after all three rounds in search of his first victory as a pro, shook off bogeys at the sixth and seven holes, plus another at No. 16, and posted a 54-hole score of 9-under 204.
Woods collected four birdies on the first 10 holes and made his only bogey at No. 13 on his way to a 67, while playing alongside Snedeker, who made two birdies down the stretch in another 67, and the fifth-ranked Rose holed his second shot from 120 yards for an eagle at No. 11 en route to a 66.
“I’ve played 13 rounds since I’ve come back and about half are with Sneds,” said Woods, trying to win for the first time since 2013 in his fourth official event since a fourth back surgery. “We had fun out there and so did the fans. They were really into it.
“I’ve played myself into contention and I’m right in there for Sunday.”
Patrick Reed carded a 67 and is three shots back in a tie for fifth with Sam Burns, who sank a 13-foot putt on the 14th hole in another 67, while Rory Sabbatini of South Africa made four birdies on the back nine and is one more behind in a tie for seventh with Ryan Palmer, who totaled 70, Tyrone Van Aswagen of South Africa, who recorded a 68, and Kelly Kraft, who holed a 36-foot bunker shot for an eagle at No. 11 in a 70.
Adam Scott of Australia posted a bogey-free 67 and is tied for 11th, Sergio Garcia of Spain, who will defend his Masters title in a few weeks, is tied for 25th after a 69 and defending champion Adam Hadwin of Canada shot 71 and is tied for 28th.
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