Not the Tiger we’re used to seeing

Tiger Woods hits an errant drive during the third round of The Barclays.

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – He issued a warning to spectators at the 219-yard, par-3 second.

“Fore, left.”

At the 402-yard, par-4 third, there was another warning, only he went the other way.

“Fore, right.”

As for his competitive fire at The Barclays, Tiger Woods is providing mixed signals. While you might read his body language and presume he’s not thrilled to have signed on for this tournament, Woods insists his play proves otherwise.

“I played great. I (have driven) it great all week,” Woods said. “I’ve hit my irons really well.”

Sounds like a recipe for . . . oh, a three- or four-stroke lead, eh? Yet even on the strength of a third-round 4-under 71, Woods enters Sunday’s final round five shots astray, so how do figure that?

“Haven’t made anything.”

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Tiger Woods walks up the 18th fairway during the third round of The Barclays.

Putts, of course. And if that sounds familiar, it should. The putter let him down at the British Open and even more so at the PGA Championship, and it certainly hasn’t helped the cause thus far at Liberty National.

(Liberty National? That reminds us, we have a terrific view of the Statue of Liberty. What, you saw that 1,653 times on The Golf Channel and CBS? Well, good, because you’ll see it 4,297 times in the final round. Just to remind you.)

One day after requiring 33 putts in a second-round 72, Woods missed a handful of birdie tries inside of 15 feet, took 28 in all, and was seen mumbling to himself.

Chances are he wasn’t singing the praises of these wildly undulated greens.

Now for each of the first two days at this FedEx Cup playoff, Woods has taken a pass from talking to the media. Highly unusual, because while some players make it part of their repertoire to storm past reporters, Woods has always accepted that with his lofty position in the game comes a sense of responsibility to answer questions for reporters.

Be the score 67 or 76, be he in first or 33rd, no one can say that Woods has shirked this responsibility. In fact, you have to go back to the PGA Championship of 2003 – six long years ago – when he last went quiet.

Until this week, that is, when a first-round 70 and second-round 71 were followed by quick exits from Liberty National.

Laryngitis? No. Sick of the media? Possibily, and who could blame him, given that he’s playing for the fifth time in seven weeks. But more than anything, you get the feeling that these greens give him the creeps and the sooner he’s out of here, the better. Maybe he was afraid if he got going on them, he’d get himself in trouble, yet when Woods finally stopped to talk and offered his views, he had all he could do to be diplomatic.

“The greens,” he said, “they are just so different.”

Different good? Different bad? Woods maintained his composure, but conceded that they had him confounded.

“Usually I read greens on my own and feel very comfortable with my reads,” he said. “But here, a lot of the putts are double-breaking putts.”

Example: The par-4 third hole, where Woods had a 12-foot putt straight down hill. Or so he thought until he brought caddie Steve Williams in for a look. They agreed on the line, yet both were wrong; the putt drifted left, not right.

Example: The 7-foot birdie try at the 15th that Woods studied and studied and studied . . . and missed.

“I thought that putt would break left and it was inside right and then it moved back to the right,” Woods said. “I didn’t see that at all.”

None of which is to suggest that Woods is an afterthought here along the Hudson River. On the contrary, he solved the mystery of enough greens to stay very much in it – birdie putts at Nos. 5, 6, 7, 14 and 17, not to mention succint par-saving rolls at the par-4 13th and par-4 18th keeping him within five of Paul Goydos and Steve Marino, both of whom shot 68 and sit at 9 under.

On the one hand, Woods had cut into his deficit (from eight to five). But he knew a greater truth, that he had squandered numerous chances on a day when the magically-shrinking Liberty National (reduced a whopping 355 yards, to 7,064 yards) was there for the taking.

“They (played) the ladies tees most of the day,” huffed Woods. “It (was) unbelievable how short the golf course was playing.”

Ah, but the greens. What a long, long journey they presented.

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