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Wayward Woods clings to joint lead in Melbourne

AN out-of-sorts Tiger Woods battled to a share of the lead after the third round of the Australian Masters today, as his rivals failed to capitalize on an off day for the world number one.

Woods held a three-stroke lead going into the third round and seemed set to charge ahead after draining a monster birdie putt on the par-four second. But that was almost as good as it got for the 14-times major champion, who said he felt lucky to escape with an even par 72.

Woods ended the day joint leader with local hopes Greg Chalmers and James Nitties on 10 under par at the A$1.5 million (US$1.4 million) co-sanctioned event. American Jason Dufner and Australia's Cameron Percy are two shots further back.

"I was very fortunate, somehow I found a way to shoot even par today because it certainly should have been a lot worse than that," Woods told reporters at Kingston Heath Golf Club.

"I hit some really good shots out there as well but also I hit some just terrible golf shots and it was either-or, there was no grey area today."

After recovering to shoot a four-under 68 after a mid-round slump with the driver a day earlier, Woods's troubles were more prolonged today, the American finding bunkers on the sixth and eighth, and the fairway of the 10th when he was playing nine.

His frustration boiled over at one stage, his driver ending up in the hands of a spectator after Woods pounded it into the turf after a poor tee shot.


Woods said his troubles stemmed from a bad warm-up in the morning and his frustrations were compounded by some "atrocious" putting on surprisingly soft greens.

"I didn't hit the ball very good on the range and the golf course wasn't very good either," he said.

"As dry as (the greens) were yesterday, they were just really soft today, making ball marks, the balls were spinning back.

"It was a different golf course than we certainly would have have thought."

Although most of the 24,000 fans at Kingston Heath turned up expecting fireworks from Woods, it was his playing partner Dufner who stole the show early on.

Joint second overnight, the stocky American notched four birdies in six holes on the front nine to snatch the lead after the eighth, but surrendered it immediately with bogey on nine.

He fell back after two more dropped shots coming home.

Chalmers also took a one-stroke lead with his second successive birdie at the par-four ninth, but nerves appeared to get the better of the Australian on the back nine.

After six straight pars, Chalmers cracked on the par-four 16th, steering a five-foot par putt past the lip of the hole and falling back into joint second with Woods and Nitties.

Both Nitties and Chalmers missed birdie chances on the par-four 18th, leaving Woods pleased to still cling on to a share of the lead.

"I played myself into a tie for the lead, I could have easily played myself straight out of the tournament," said Woods, who after bogeying the 11th, held firm with four straight pars after a birdie on the par-five 14th.

Australia's Adam Scott is five strokes off the pace but former U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy is all but out of contention after shooting a one-under 71 to trail by 10.


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