Tiger Woods takes another step with fight through rough Saturday

Ryan Young/PGA Tour

Tiger Woods takes another step with fight through rough Saturday

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods takes another step with fight through rough Saturday

NASSAU, Bahamas – For the first time all week here in this island paradise, the Good Ship Tiger encountered some rocky waters at the Hero World Challenge. On a windswept, difficult afternoon, Woods endured some chipping struggles, a few tough breaks and bogeyed five of his first 10 holes. Gulp.

The positive? He was able to fight, and he relished the opportunity to do so. A couple of birdies on the way home got him to 3-over 75 on the day, a respectable effort given his start that beat World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (76) and 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson (77). And though any chance for Woods to win had gone out to sea, the fact he was able to hang in, and hang tough, gave him something to build upon. He considered it yet another step.

“I feel like I’ve got some experience,” Woods said after his round. “… It’s nice to be part of the fight again. Get out there, fighting against the golf course, fighting against the guys, that’s fun. I haven’t done it a whole lot in the last few years.”

The first guy to tee off Saturday (Daniel Berger) in this 18-player event and the tournament leader who headed out last (Charley Hoffman) shared the low round of the day at Albany Golf Club, each shooting 2-under 70. Hoffman stretched his lead to five shots over Justin Rose (71) and Jordan Spieth (72). Scoring was rough. Hearing players talk after the round, you’d have thought the Grinch chose Albany’s tricky hole locations that failed to serve up birdies. After two days where the scoring average was 69-plus, Saturday’s average was 72.88.

One day after getting off to a red-hot start on the way to shooting 31 on his front nine, Woods appeared a little out of synch from his opening weekend swing. A poor tee shot off 1, a short approach, and a chip that raced 10 feet past the hole added up to an opening bogey. He’d add bogeys at the 603-yard, par-5 third (he was over the green in two), the par-5 sixth (where he was long with a wedge on his third shot), and the drivable seventh (needing two pitches to reach the putting surface). He turned in 4-over 40, and he was reeling.

Granted, with a steady breeze pounding out of the northeast, Albany presented the most difficult conditions seen in the three tournament rounds. But Saturday also marked the first time this week that Woods, a winner of 79 PGA Tour events and 14 majors, displayed the rust of not having competed since February.

“Whatever I did right ended up in a bad spot, and whatever I did wrong was really wrong,” Woods said of his start.

“That’s just golf. We’re always going to face adversity.”

Woods has tasted more prosperity than most, but has had his share of down times, too. It was at this tournament a year ago that he returned after a year-and-a-half absence, showed some good signs, and played only three more rounds before undergoing a vertebrae fusion on his lower back.

Thursday and Friday, he looked to be a guy that never left, shooting 69-68, and headed to the weekend with a chance. But that dried up rather quickly on Saturday as the bogeys piled up. Standing at 5 over through 10 holes, he set a goal of getting back to even par for the day, and played decently coming in, making birdies at Nos. 14 and 17.

When his 8-footer for birdie tumbled in at the 14th, he turned to the crowd, bowed and made a circle with his hat. For Woods, it was a light moment amid what had been a difficult round.

And then he resumed the fight. After hitting only two of his first 11 greens in regulation, he finished by hitting his last seven. Little things turned into big things, like knocking a second shot over the par-5 third and catching a flyer into the sixth that led to another par-5 bogey. For the second time in three days, he played the par-5 holes over par. Those are the holes he once feasted upon in his prime.

Hoffman, who made his first Presidents Cup team this fall, followed up a 12-birdie 63 on Friday by making six more birdies in more demanding conditions in Round 3, which was more than enough to offset a double-bogey 6 at the par-4 10th hole, where he hit his tee shot into high native grass and had to declare an unplayable.

Hoffman said he didn’t have his best stuff and did not drive the ball particularly well, a part of his game that usually is a strength.

“Usually, I’m a little better than I was today in this situation, but I didn’t have my best stuff and I sort of recognized it, and I was able to shoot 2 under,” he said.

He takes a five-shot lead into Sunday, with his closest chasers being Spieth, the British Open champion, and Rose, who has been hot of late and knows the Albany layout well. It’s where he makes his home.

Hoffman, who turns 41 later this month, said he has had a special year. He was a factor early in both the Masters and the U.S. Open, and finished his season with seven top 10s, tying a career high. One thing was missing: A victory.

“Which is why I play golf, to win golf tournaments,” he said, “so it was a little disappointment there.”

As for Woods, now 10 shots behind the leader, he’s got little chance. But he still can finish his week strongly.

“There were a lot of questions that I had, I’m sure you guys have had, and I feel like I’ve come out on a good side this week,” Woods said.

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