Tiger teases during third-round 68 at Frys
SAN MARTIN, Calif. – His game improving slightly by the day, Tiger Woods teased us Saturday with his second consecutive 3-under 68 at the Frys.com Open. He gave us flashes of old, but not the consistency of his prime. And so he ended up a mountain from the lead instead of a mound.
When Woods made consecutive birdies in the 6- to 8-foot range on Nos. 1-2 to start his second nine, he advanced to 4 under par for the day and into a tie for 10th, just three shots off the lead. That was the flirting, his first since April, and the Fall Series event here at CordeValle Golf Club suddenly had an accelerated heartbeat.
“It’s getting better day by day,” he would say of his play. “I felt so good over the ball today.”
Tiger Woods at the Frys.com Open: Day 3
A look at images of Tiger Woods from the third round of the Frys.Com Open in California.
But then his momentum detoured into reverse. Mistakes, the kind we never used to see, crept in again, just as they have for his past couple of substandard years. Fighting a pull-hook all week, something we rarely saw during the glory years, Woods overcooked a couple of intended draws to left pins on the incoming par 3s and made his only two bogeys of the round, the latter a fortunate one.
Just like that, he fell seven strokes behind at the time. Some life was siphoned out of the tournament. And Woods, who ended the day nine strokes behind leader Briny Baird, was left needing a Sunday miracle, at the least, instead of a short sprint.
“I’ve just obviously gotta go low tomorrow,” he said.
That’s largely because of hiccups at the final two short holes. At the 180-yard third, his shot plugged in the upslope of a left front bunker, a wide circle of indented sand around the ball. He ended up leaving a shot in a bunker for the second time this week, continuing an unusual trend this year and again signaling a sand-game decline for the former longtime World No. 1.
The unforced error off the tee at the 157-yard seventh was even more unsightly, representing his worst shot of the day. He dropped the club after pull-hooking a short iron, his ball landing on a downslope long and left and coming to rest in a bad lie in waist-high weeds. He made a big swing in trying an explosion shot as if in a bunker, but he bladed the ball over the front-left part of the green and into rough on a downslope. He pitched to 15 feet and saved bogey, but the damage of a famous chaser in need of a flawless kick was done.
Woods closed with his second two-putt birdie for a 4-under 209 on a beautiful day under a cloudless blue sky in the Santa Cruz Mountains foothills. Then he rushed off to watch his alma mater Stanford play football host to Colorado some 50 miles down the road.
Despite the blips, Woods is making progress under Sean Foley, his instructor of about 14 months. For the second day in a row, Woods hit 14 greens in regulation, as well as six fairways, and putted well. He has made 11 birdies in the past two rounds, including five Saturday.
The unusual part of the growing pains is this habit of missing shots left of his target with the retooled swing. His mandate to former coach Hank Haney was to give instruction that would take left out at all costs; hence, his misses went right.
So this left-rough business is a different deal, one that would seem to be Needed Fix No. 1.
“The body starts rotating, and obviously the hands chase,” Woods said. “So if I keep the body rotating, then I’ll be fine.”
His season derailed by left-leg injury and subsequent rust, Woods is in the midst of just his second 72-hole tournament since the Masters and his first event since Aug. 12. In other words, he’s trying to get reacquainted with the ebb and flow of competition.
For his part, he says he’s getting into that feel and rhythm.
“Absolutely,” he said twice. “The shots, the feel, the trajs (trajectories), line the ball up at different numbers (yardages).”
Still, he didn’t take full advantage of an ideal day for scoring. He failed to hit his wedges close on the first nine. He drove into high grass left of the green on the 290-yard 17th and failed to birdie. Then he missed an 8-foot birdie putt at 18 before converting on the next two.
When he hit his approach close at the second, a man in the gallery yelled, “He’s roaring back! He’s coming back!”
Woods was, but just for an instant. And appears on his way back to winning ways over all. But at the moment, he remains a work in progress. The key word for him is that last one.
“I would like to just keep building on it,” he said. “I’m definitely doing that. I wasn’t that far away from really turning it on the back nine and taking it deep.”