Woods one back as Conners keeps Valspar lead


Miami (AFP)

Tiger Woods had the crowd roaring, but rookie Corey Conners held his nerve to stay one stroke ahead of the former world number one after three rounds of the Valspar Championship.

Woods, playing his fourth US PGA Tour event since returning in January from spinal fusion surgery last April, fired a four-under par 67 that left him tied for second on eight-under 205 alongside former US Open champion Justin Rose of England and American Brandt Snedeker.

They're chasing Conners, who carded a 68 for 204 to maintain the lead he has held since the first round.

But once again Woods was the center of attention, and after years of battling injury he gave his fans what they wanted to see.

The 42-year-old, who has spoken of playing with a "new body" after the fusion surgery, swung with a clubhead speed measured as the fastest in the field.

His sharp short game was on full display when he chipped in for birdie from 30 feet away in the greenside rough at the par-four ninth, his ball rolling neatly into the middle of the cup.

"Nine was good," Woods said. "It rolled in just like a putt, which was nice.

"I've played myself right there into contention, so it should be a fun Sunday," said the 14-time major champion, who is chasing an 80th US PGA Tour title.

"The environment was incredible," Woods said of the boisterous gallery that followed him. "People were into it ... it's been incredible."

Snedeker also carded a 67 while Rose fired a five-under 66 -- highlighted by an eagle at the 11th -- to reach eight-under.

Rose said his eagle "ignited things" for him. He rolled in a 20-foot birdie at the 12th and added another at 15.

"I putted really, really well on the back nine," Rose said. "Every putt I had I thought it was going to go in."

But even playing in a different group, Rose was aware of the electricity surrounding Woods.

"We've been hearing it all week," Rose said. "I think two or three times on the golf course our paths crossed, there's a lot more fuss going on the periphery."