Unlike the first two days, there were no apparent problems with his left arm. No, the only grimacing Tiger Woods did in the U.S. Open third round was because of his substandard golf shots and his messy scorecard, not because of physical pain.
If Saturday is indeed moving day, then the world’s No. 1 golfer got rid of the furniture and moved out. Remarkably, after making his lone birdie on the opening hole, Woods shot a 6-over-par 76 at Merion. He started the day four shots off the lead and, after seven bogeys, ended it 10 behind rival Phil Mickelson.
Woods, of course, arrived in suburban Philadelphia hungry to win his first major championship in five years. He arrived, too, with high hopes, having won four of his seven PGA Tour stroke-play starts of the year. And he remained optimistic after a 73-70 start, even though he had three-putted twice and missed some other putts inside 10 feet on opening day.
But by Saturday night he was out of it and disappointed.
“It is certainly frustrating because I certainly was feeling like I was playing well this week, and I just didn’t make the putts I need to make,” Woods said. “I’m playing well enough to do it (contend), and unfortunately I just haven’t gotten it done.”
On and around the greens, he might have added.
Woods was off Saturday particularly on the putting surfaces. Despite hitting 13 of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation, he left himself only three birdie putts inside of 20 feet on a tight course that again had difficult hole locations. He made but one, a 12-footer at the first, prompting gallows humor in the form of, “At least I started well.” Later he failed to convert from 13 feet at the eighth and 10 feet at the 11th. On top of that, he chunked a chip for the third consecutive day.
For the day, he had a pair of three-putts and took 36 in all. On his 13 GIR holes, he took 27 putts, an average of more than two a hole.
Hence, a familiar refrain came out of his mouth. You know, the bit about not being able to get a handle on green speed. It has been his go-to line on days he doesn’t score well.
“I didn’t make anything today,” he said. “I just couldn’t get a feel for them. Some putts were slow, some were fast and I had a tough time getting my speed right.”
He said the same thing on opening day. Hence, for 54 holes he has four three-putts and ranks tied for 53rd in total putts (96) and tied for 59th in putts per GIR (1.94). This is the same player who only a few weeks ago was leading the Tour in putting.
“So basically I just didn’t have the speed right this week, and it certainly showed,” Woods said.
Woods bogeyed three of four holes through the sixth, missing par putts of 9 feet at the third and 7 feet at the fifth. On the next hole, his chunked chip from just in front of the green rolled back down a slope, leaving him a longer third shot en route to bogey.
“That was a little bit into the grain,” he said. “I had to throw it up there, and so I had to try and shallow it out, and I did it too much.”
Woods seemed more upset about the dropped shot at the 504-yard, par-4 fifth. He hit a beautiful drive into the fairway, but his ball came to rest in a hole. Subsequently his approach came up 60 feet short.
“I think that really turned my round around,” he said. “I end up in a ball mark. It was that kind of the way it went.”
What’s more, Woods didn’t take advantage of the so-called easy stretch of Nos. 7-13. He played them in 2 over par, thanks to a three-putt bogey from 35 feet at No. 10 and a hooked fairway-wood drive into left rough at No. 12, where he was forced to lay up 70 yards short of the hole. He also followed chips with missed short par putts at Nos. 16 and 18.
The 14-time major winner called Merion “most definitely” the most penal U.S. Open setup he has played, primarily of the difficult pin positions near ridges and slopes and fringes.
Remarkably, Woods will leave Merion having not won a major in five years. Had anyone forecast that in the summer of 2008, after he won the Open at Torrey Pines on a broken leg, treatment for mental health would have been prescribed.
Woods’ next attempt to end his major drought will come next month in the Open Championship at Muirfield. If he is to win there, he’ll need to clean up his short game.
But there is perhaps good news for him: Superstars win at Muirfield. The eight Opens at Muirfield since World War II have been won by men who gained entry to the World Golf Hall of Fame: Henry Cotton, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo (twice) and Ernie Els.
And before Alfred Perry’s victory there in 1935, the first winners at Muirfield were also heavyweights: Walter Hagen, Ted Ray, James Braid (twice), Harry Vardon and Harold Hilton. All but Ray is in the Hall, and he probably should be.
Given all that and Woods’ success for most of this year, it’s not a stretch to fancy his chances.