by Daniel HICKS
Tiger Woods led Hideki Matsuyama by three strokes with seven holes to play to stand on the verge of golfing history when the final round of the weather-delayed Zozo Championship in Japan was suspended due to bad light Sunday.
Victory for Woods on Monday would see the 15-time major champion add another illustrious chapter to his astonishing career by equalling US legend Sam Snead’s all-time mark of 82 PGA Tour wins.
Woods, who is 17-under par, shook hands for the night with playing partners Gary Woodland and Keegan Bradley in the descending darkness after parring the 11th hole in his fourth round.
But the current US Masters champion is taking nothing for granted and said he will need to hit the ground running on Monday morning.
“Starting off on the 12th hole is not easy. It’s one of the hardest par fours on the whole golf course, it’s 490 yards,” Woods told reporters.
“It’s going to be cool tomorrow morning, so the hole’s going to play really long, so it’s important that I get off to a good start.
“It’s a hard pin tomorrow over in the top right. I’ve got to do my job starting out.”
Japan’s number one Matsuyama, in the group immediately ahead, had clung doggedly to the coat-tails of Woods throughout Sunday’s third and fourth rounds, delayed because of Friday’s washout at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.
After Woods had finished he still had time to induce one last mighty roar from the packed golf-crazy galleries hanging off every Matsuyama drive, chip and putt at the US PGA Tour’s inaugural tournament in Japan.
The world number 27’s snaking 25-foot birdie putt on the 12th green somehow found its way to the cup in the gloom and Matsuyama moved to 14-under par, three behind Woods with six to play when the round resumes at 7.30 am Monday (2230 GMT Sunday).
“I am only thinking how to catch up and win the tournament,” said Matsuyama. “Let’s see what is going to happen in the last six holes tomorrow.”
Woods, who has led since his first-round six-under 64 on Thursday, earlier on Sunday shot a controlled third-round 66 to extend a two-shot lead over Woodland (68) to three over Matsuyama, who carded a 65.
Rory McIlroy was the biggest mover as he catapulted up the leaderboard with a third-round 63, equalling the low round of the week, to follow his 65 on Saturday.
The FedEx Cup champion lies fifth on 11-under par with two holes to complete.
“I played great this morning,” said McIlroy. “I’ve got a 12-footer for birdie on 17 and then I’ll try to make birdie or eagle at the last and finish as high up as possible.”
Tied for third on 12-under par are in-form US Open champion Woodland, third last week at the CJ Cup, and PGA Tour 2019 Rookie of the Year Im Sung-jae who had a third-round 67.
The atmosphere was electric Sunday as the sellout crowds, who were shut out Saturday for safety reasons after almost 10 inches of rain fell on the course during Friday’s storms, were gleefully allowed back in.
“I’m happy for the crowds, I’m happy for the people of Japan that they got to see us play a lot today,” said Northern Ireland’s McIlroy.
“Obviously Tiger leading, Hideki chasing him down, you couldn’t have written it any better for the first PGA Tour event in Japan,” added the world number two.
“It’s been a great tournament so far and I’m sure it will be an awesome finish tomorrow.”
© Agence France-Presse