With almost no one watching, Woods leaps up AT&T National leader board

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Sports,Golf,Kevin Dunleavy

Tiger now in contention after really strange day

Saturday was one of the most surreal scenes in Tiger Woods' professional golf career. As he was making a run at the lead in the AT&T National, his birdie putts were serenaded by a smattering of polite applause from a few dozen followers. Two groups back, a literal few were following the leader, Hunter Mahan.

The dearth of spectators at Congressional Country Club in the third round of the AT&T National was the work of Mother Nature. A combination of storm damage, heat and the possibility of another storm convinced officials to take the unusual step of barring fans from the course. Most of those in the "gallery" were tournament personnel in matching golf shirts.

Woods made the most of his fan-free day, firing a 4-under-par 67 to climb the leader board. He entered the clubhouse one shot down at 6 under.

They will make an interesting pair of contenders in Sunday's final round. The toned, fit Woods (6-foot-1, 170 pounds) talked of his fitness edge Friday when temperatures hit 100 degrees, while de Jonge (6-0, 230) joked about his well-rounded figure.

Also in contention is Bo Van Pelt, who played with Woods and matched his 67 to trail by a stroke, and Leesburg native and Naval Academy graduate Billy Hurley, who shot a 5-under 66, the best round Saturday.

With few spectators, Saturday was a strange day full of humorous scenes. As players teed off for the round, they were introduced as usual, and many waved to the imaginary crowd. After holing out for a birdie at No. 4 Robert Garrigus, tipped his cap dramatically to the sound of silence.

"There was only one guy following us," Jim Furyk said. "It's a lot more fun when the fans are out,"

As Furyk's group finished up and walked off the green at No. 9, the lone fan clapped in appreciation.

"Is that all you got?" Ricky Barnes teased.

"It was like an empty-course practice round with everybody following another group," Barnes said moments later.

Tickets for Saturday will be honored for Sunday's final round, which will tee off at 11:10 a.m., allowing for further cleanup of the spectator areas. The start of the third round was pushed back to 1 p.m., allowing cleanup crews to make the course playable.

The day belonged to Woods, who started with a birdie, then made a 25-footer for another birdie at No.?3. At No. 6 Woods looked like he could drop a stoke as he flew the green, leaving himself with a delicate flop shot to a tight, downhill pin. But Woods' shot rattled into the cup for a birdie. At No. 10, Woods' 15-foot birdie putt circled the cup and dropped in.

Shots like this from Woods are often met with roars. Instead it was a few hoots from the 50 or so spectators who enjoyed their rare opportunity to see and hear Woods up close.

"It was probably Tiger's favorite day of the year," Barnes joked.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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