Woods falls to 10 back at Australian Masters

Tiger Woods during the third round of the Australian Masters.

Tiger Woods during the third round of the Australian Masters.

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Adam Bland has played in only one major and two other PGA Tour events. He was 75th on the Nationwide Tour money list and is headed to California on Sunday night for the second stage of Q-school.

First up is a chance to win the Australian Masters, where he is 10 shots ahead of Tiger Woods.

Kieran Pratt is a 22-year-old from Melbourne who turned pro only eight days ago and could not have asked for a better start to his career. He received an exemption to the Australian Masters, saw Woods in person for the first time and wound up paired with the defending champion in the third round Saturday.

“I was in a bit of shock,” Pratt said. “I saw him walking to the range on day one, and it’s just unreal seeing him. I’ve seen him so much on TV, and there he was. He’s got such an aura about him.”

Pratt was in such awe that he shot a 70, topping Woods by one shot at Victoria Golf Club, although both are out of contention.

Woods still has a mystique about him – at least before he tees off.

In what has become a lost year for Woods, he missed three putts inside 5 feet on his opening six holes, had to rally over the last 10 holes to get back to par for the day and found himself in a position that has become all too familiar.

Woods will tee off in the final round before the leaders even start warming up.

He shot a 71 Saturday and this will be the ninth time in 13 tournaments this year that Woods has been behind by at least 10 shots going into the final round. That doesn’t include the Quail Hollow Championship, where he missed the cut.

Going into this season, Woods had not finished more than 10 shots behind the winner since The Players Championship in 2007.

No longer No. 1 in the world, and likely to fall even farther behind Lee Westwood, Woods walked off Victoria in a steady rain, resigned that he will go an entire year without winning for the first time.

“Unfortunately, I’m so far back that I’ve got to play a great round, and then I need help,” he said.

He can blame that mostly on his putter.

Woods had a 5-foot birdie chance that never hit the hole on No. 1, a par 4 that measures only 257 yards. On four of the next five holes, his approach came up at least 60 feet short of the pin, and he three-putted two of those to make bogey.

“Again, I struggled with the pace of the greens,” Woods said. “I left countless putts short, and got off to a bad start the first couple of holes, blocked two short putts. Consequently, I didn’t get anything going.”

The weather didn’t help, although all 62 players who made the cut had to play in it.

It sure didn’t bother Bland, a left-hander who has been working on a better attitude after going into a funk the second part of his Nationwide Tour season. With only a one-shot lead, Bland took a risk by hitting driver on the short par-4 15th, threading the bunkers and onto the green for a two-putt birdie.

He gave himself another eagle chance on the par-5 18th for another simple birdie, wound up with a 70 and was at 11-under 202. Bland was only looking for confidence to take to the second stage of Q-school at Bayonet and Black Horse, two public courses just north of Pebble Beach where qualifying takes place. He might wind up with a gold jacket for winning the Australian Masters.

He was three shots ahead of Daniel Gaunt, who was working in a golf store this spring as Woods was preparing to end his five-month break from golf and return to the more famous Masters. Gaunt shot a 68.

Andre Stolz, tied for the lead after eight holes, fell back to a 72 and was four shots behind.

Woods feels as though he is getting closer with a swing change under Sean Foley, and he is stringing together more good shots. He attributed the distance control early in his round to the weather – cold, wind, rain – that had him hitting a 5-iron that went just 165 yards, only a day after hitting 9-iron from 200 yards on the fast turf of the sandbelt.

This is the fourth time Woods has changed his swing, and inevitably the short game tends to suffer.

“I work on my swing so much that I don’t have as much time for chipping and putting,” Woods said. “Ironically enough, I worked on my short game a lot coming in here at home. But for the last week or so, I’ve grinded really hard. Unfortunately, I haven’t made enough putts.”

That was the case last week in China. It’s been the case at Victoria.

It’s been that way all year.

Woods wasn’t alone in his struggles. Sergio Garcia, coming off a 65 in the second round, cautioned those ready to herald that he was on his way back that his game remained inconsistent, and he could just as easily shoot 75 the next day.

Garcia almost called it. He shot a 77 to fall out of contention.

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