LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – Asked if he wished he would be playing in the final game on Sunday at Royal Lytham, Tiger Woods had little time for hypotheticals and pausing to wonder what might have been.
“I’m not,” he responded, quickly squashing the dream sequence.
On a third consecutive tournament day that delivered only light breezes on the historic links of Lytham, when eight others in the top 10 posted rounds in red numbers, Woods sputtered to an effort of level par, failing to record a single birdie on the back nine. If he wants to capture his 15th career major on Sunday at the 141st Open Championship, and his first in four-plus years, he’ll have to do something he has yet to do: chase it down from behind.
Woods, at 6-under 204, will begin Sunday five shots in back of leader Adam Scott, who methodically picked apart Lytham on Saturday. We don’t even need Woods’ familiar words to tell you his new theme on this one: Yes, it is what it is. And there’s lots of work to do.
“I thought I had a couple of good looks at some putts and didn’t make them, and misread the putt there at 15,” Woods said, referring to a par miss from 6 feet. “But even par is about right.”
For him, it was. On a day when others were moving forward, that wasn’t a good thing. Woods did have this: He was able to battle back after a dismal start in which he bogeyed two of his first three holes. He thought to himself that if he could get back to 1 over, or even, at the turn, it would be good. And then he rolled off three birdies in four holes to actually turn under par. A bonus.
After that, though, there were very few fireworks. Did he take any positives from a rough day?
“Well, I turned it around,” Woods said. “I got off to an awful start and battled back and got myself right back in the mix again going into tomorrow, and I’m right there.”
“Right there” seems somewhat relative. The bad news is that he’s five shots behind a player who has been solid all week. Should Scott get off to the start he embarked upon Saturday, when he went out in 32, Woods’ somewhat conservative game plan may need to get torn up and written anew. (A driver on No. 7 Saturday marked the first time he’d hit the club in 20 holes.)
The better news for Woods? There are only three people in front of him, and the Sunday forecast is calling – finally – for winds that have been virtually non-existent to strengthen to 15 mph or more.
Or at least that’s what the weather forecasters say.
“They’ve been wrong all week,” Woods said.
Ernie Els stayed in the picture with a round of 2-under 68, and he begins Sunday six shots behind the leader. Els has gone around Lytham in second (1996) and third (2001) and now has yet another chance to contend. He was pleased with how he played on Saturday, and marveled at how difficult the course played despite the lack of serious wind.
It’s odd to play an Open Championship when the fan is turned off, he says.
“Amazing. It’s just been amazing,” he said. “I can’t remember the last time – I think Hoylake (2006, when strong winds didn’t blow).
It’s just very dead calm. It just shows you what a great golf course it is; even with calm conditions it’s tough to score.”
For those who are trying to come from behind, who are chasing, the theory is that their chances would be enhanced if the conditions were tougher. For three days, the only defense at Lytham has been its 205 bunkers and some challenging hole locations.
“This is … not eerie, but it’s just not what you expect at the Open,” said Zach Johnson, who fired the low round of the day (66) and leaped from T-15 to T-5. He is at 205, six back.
For Johnson, Els, Woods and the others, it might be nice if Mother Nature did her part on Sunday. After three days of playing “in a dome,” as Woods called it, it would nice to see the Open resemble the Open. Let it blow, the players say.
“That’d be nice,” says Jason Dufner, who, after a third-round 73, is 10 shots behind Adam Scott, and seven shots out of second.
Paul Lawrie once came from 10 shots back to win the Open, doing so at Carnoustie in 1999, when he shot 67 on a breezy final day, watched Jean Van de Velde collapse on a brutally tough course, and then prevailed in a three-man playoff.
“More wind is going to make it tougher for me,” Dufner said, “but if you shoot 4 or 5 under, you could pick up some good ground. It doesn’t matter to me. Either way, I’m going to have to play really well.”