Tiger Woods had said to temper expectations in his return and he showed why Saturday as he fired a 3-over 75 at the Hero World Challenge to drop from contention.
The 41-year-old had the golf world abuzz when he opened Friday in 5-under 31 at Albany Golf Club to take the lead, but his second round stalled that day on the back nine as he posted 4-under 68 to fall five back. And then he looked completely out of sorts for most of Round 3.
The rust of competing in his first event in 10 months was evident Saturday as Woods bogeyed five of his first 10 holes to drop well back. A par save at No. 11 kept things from getting worse and only a late run (two birdies in his last five holes) allowed Woods to come away with a 75 in windy conditions and end the day 10 shots off Charley Hoffman’s lead score. (Woods sits T-10 overall.)
The day, which proved more difficult for the entire field as just three players posted sub-par rounds, could’ve been truly disastrous, but Woods saved himself from a dismal score with his ability to grind. Still, even accounting for the increased difficulty in conditions, this was definitely a harsh dose of reality a day after Woods was at the top of the leaderboard.
The 14-time major champion clearly was uncomfortable Saturday from the start. His opening drive went left and it led to a sloppy bogey. A poor chip that came up short of the green at the par-5 third followed by a missed 3-footer meant another bogey.
A second par-5 bogey followed at the sixth and he had another short-game shot come up short and fail to reach the green at the par-4 seventh after he nearly drove the green. A bogey there after missing a 15-footer suddenly had him 4 over for the round and plummeting down the leaderboard.
A 15-footer from the fringe at the par-3 eighth dropped – after yet another short-game shot coming up short of the putting surface – to avoid bogey but another did arrive two holes later when Woods hit a poor approach at the par-4 10th after finding the fairway then missed on an 8-footer.
His round appeared to be possibly headed toward hoping to break 80 when his drive finished in the bushes right at the par-5 11th. He recovered nicely but it still appeared he would fall to 6 over through 11, until he rolled in an 8-footer to save par at the par 5.
Woods finally stabilized late in the round. He nearly drove the par-4 14th, chipped to 10 feet and rolled in the putt for his first birdie of the day. He even gave the crowd a mock bow for finally making a birdie.
He then buried a left-to-right slider from 10 feet at the par-3 17th for another birdie to move to 3 over for the round. Woods nearly drained a long birdie putt at the par-4 18th but made a simple par to post at 75.
Yes, it could have been worse. But overall, Woods was dreadful for most of the day. His great driving over the first 36 holes disappeared and his chipping woes from Thursday returned. He also showed an appalling lack of course management for a good portion of the round.
But that’s what happens when you return from an extended break, no matter your talent.
Frankly the expectations probably got a bit too high after the 69-68 start in fine conditions. A 75 in windier conditions in your third round of competition in 10 months is nothing to be ashamed of, and Woods is still beating a decent portion of a world-class 18-man field.
It was also important to see that Woods still knows how to grind with the best of them when things are going awry. The 41-year-old’s ability to scratch out a respectable score when his game wasn’t clicking keyed into much of his success (those 14 major titles and 79 PGA Tour wins).
He showed that prowess again Saturday when he was spiraling as he reached the 11th green but then somehow turned himself around. After draining that 8-footer, Woods hit his final seven greens and gave himself numerous good birdie looks. He dropped two of them and in fact missed a pair of 12-footers that could’ve gave him an even greater late surge.
This is to say that Woods appeared to transform back into the form he had the first 36 holes midway through a miserable third round.
It was a difficult Saturday for Woods and definitely a setback for the onlookers whose expectations soared after the first 36 holes. Woods was right to call for tempered expectations.
But he still managed to show the positive glimpses of his former self in a Saturday 75.
The aesthetic faded a good deal in Round 3, but the Woods comeback trail is still strong in the Bahamas.