BETHESDA, Md. – Tiger Woods played before the largest crowd of the day, even though it never topped 100. Brendon de Jonge had as many birdies – three – as people in his gallery on a strange, silent Saturday at the AT&T National.
A violent wind storm overnight that toppled dozens of trees and littered the course with limbs forced tournament officials to keep spectators and all but the essential volunteers away from Congressional for the third round. Considering the amount of debris, it was amazing they even played.
De Jonge was steady in the steamy heat for a third straight round in the 60s, this one a 2-under 69 that gave him a one-shot lead over Woods, Bo Van Pelt and S.Y. Noh headed into a final round that figures to be a lot more noisy.
Woods and Van Pelt shot 67, and Noh had a 69.
De Jonge, a South African going for his first PGA Tour win, made his final birdie on the 12th hole with a wedge out of the rough that climbed over a ridge and settled about 12 feet behind the cup. It was worthy of applause, but there was only one person in the gallery to see it – Kandi Mahan, the wife of Hunter Mahan.
Indeed, this was a day like few others on the PGA Tour.
A few volunteers, tournament staff and club members tagged along after Woods, and provided about the only noise of the round. They watched him and Van Pelt get off to a quick start, then match pars on the back nine to get close to the lead.
I told Tiger that was a Bo Van Pelt crowd, so I was used to that, Van Pelt said. I was very comfortable with 10 or 15 people watching me play golf. No, it was just nice to get it in. I think we’re all fortunate that nobody got hurt out here last night. It’s a credit to the grounds staff that they got this golf course ready.
I’m sure if you saw pictures of what it looked like at midnight, the fact that we played golf today is a minor miracle.
De Jonge was at 7-under 206 and will play in the final group with Van Pelt and Woods, who is going for his third win of the year. Woods won the AT&T National the last time it was held at Congressional in 2009.
Billy Hurley, the Navy veteran who grew up in the area, had a 66 and was two shots back, along with Mahan, who stumbled to a 73.
Today might be a return to normal, at least with the noise, especially with Woods in the final group.
The final round will be threesomes going off both sides, giving the grounds crew even more time to clean up the course. For Saturday, the grounds crew did well to put chain saws to the toppled trees and collect the hundreds of branches scattered across the fairways and pile them up outside the ropes.
It was the debris, along with some loose limbs, that led officials to turn back spectators for the third round. The Saturday tickets will be honored today, which could make Congressional even more raucous.
Woods was worth seeing Saturday, at least on the front nine.
He holed an 8-foot birdie putt to start his round and got off to a quick start by taking on five putts in the opening six holes – a short bunker save on No. 2, a 40-foot birdie putt on No. 3, a wedge from 76 yards to tap-in range for par on the fourth, an easy up-and-down from just off the green on No. 5, and then his biggest moment.
After missing the green to the left on the par-5 sixth, he had an uphill lie in buried grass and holed out for an unlikely birdie. Woods offered a moderate fist pump as the gallery – they numbered 73 at that point, not counting TV crews and other media – cheered.
Woods said his mild response was more about the day of the week than the decibel levels from the gallery.
I don’t really get that fired up on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday, he said. I think for me, I just understand I still have so far to go.