Corey Conners continues to play the role of spoiler in Tiger Woods’ efforts to get back in the win column for the first time in nearly five years as he carded a three-under 68 Saturday to reach nine-under overall in the 2018 Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Conners, who’s held the lead after each of the first three days, made the field as an alternate and is now 18 holes from his first PGA Tour victory. He showed no obvious signs of nerves or tension in Round 3, tallying six birdies and three bogeys to maintain his place atop the leaderboard.
Woods (-8) will head into Sunday’s action one stroke off the pace in a tie for second. Justin Rose (-8), Brandt Snedeker (-8), Patrick Reed (-6) and Adam Scott (-4) are among the other notable golfers firmly in the mix heading into what should be an entertaining final round.
For as much talk as there’s been about Woods’ terrific comeback story—and it’s all warranted—Conners’ journey from tournament alternate to potential winner is equally tremendous.
The 26-year-old Canadian has come out of nowhere. He’s made 10 previous starts on the PGA Tour this season and finished no better than 29th. He finished 59th in the Honda Classic in his most recent event.
He spent Saturday playing one group behind Tiger, hearing every roar of the crowd when the fan favorite delivered a chip-in birdie or long-range putt. It’s a situation that’s caused many players in the past to succumb to the pressure.
That didn’t happen to Conners on Saturday. He played sound, controlled golf and now stands 18 holes away from the biggest moment of his golf career.
The PGA Tour highlighted one of his several great shots from the fairway during Round 3:
@coreconn takes the solo lead @ValsparChamp.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to believe how quickly Woods got his game back to a title-contending level.
The 14-time major champion struggled mightily to find the fairway during a missed cut at the Genesis Open. While that performance initially tempered short-term expectations, he worked out those kinks in rapid fashion and now his all-around form is impressive.
Tiger played one truly terrible shot Saturday—his errant effort off the tee on the par-three 13th, which led to his only bogey of the day. Everything else ranged from fine to outstanding.
The PGA Tour showcased his birdie putt from No. 10 that fell into the latter category:
There goes that man! 🐅
Back-to-back birdies for Tiger.
In addition, his presence makes every tournament feel and sound more important, as discussed by ESPN’s Mike Greenberg:
If you’re wondering what “The Tiger Effect” is let me help you. He makes The Valspar feel like the freakin Ryder Cup.
There are far more questions than answers about what to expect Sunday. How will Conners hold up while being chased by at least three high-profile foes, including Woods? Is Tiger truly ready to win again? Will Rose, Snedeker or somebody else steal the spotlight?
It all sets the stage for what should be a wild finish to the Valspar Championship.