SAN DIEGO – There are certain traits of Old Tiger that New Tiger can’t ever recapture. Like the fearlessness that is the privilege of youth, or the aura of utter supremacy. But there is one gift from his storied past that Tiger Woods seems to have regained: the preternatural ability to salvage a respectable score from an otherwise lousy ballstriking day.
In that respect he’s 3-for-3 this week at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where Woods scratched out a third-round 70 to finish at 3-under par, eight shots behind leader Alex Noren.
His 70 belies a lot of other, less flattering numbers.
Through three rounds Woods ranks T-75 in driving accuracy among 77 players who made the cut. He hit just 3 of 14 fairways on Saturday, tying his career low on Torrey’s South Course and mirroring the 3 of 14 he found Friday on the North course. He ranks 73rd of 77 in strokes gained: approaching the green. He has hit just 18 greens with those six fairways over the past two days.
Not since Gerald Ford played in the Bob Hope invitational has a California gallery been strafed with so many wayward golf balls.
“Gross,” was how Woods described his round. “That’s just fighting, you know, fighting and grinding. I didn’t have much but I fought and put up a score and made some putts.”
“I didn’t hit it worth a darn all day. I was really struggling out there trying to find anything that was a resemblance of a golf swing. But I was scoring.”
It was his putter that rescued Woods from ruin. He hit only three greens on his opening nine holes and birdied all of them – Nos. 12, 13 and 18 – each dropped putt greeted with loud cheers from his huge gallery. He totaled 91 feet of putts made today, compared to just 34 feet in Thursday’s opening round on the South Course. He is in the top 10 in strokes gained: around the green, testament to his sublime scrambling.
Woods teed off just 30 minutes before the leader in Round 3, but while Ryan Palmer went to the first tee Woods hiked out to No. 10, where the lower orders of the leaderboard were dispatched for a split tee start. That’s about the worst indignity he has endured this week at a course on which he has authored some of the most memorable victories of his career, including seven Farmers wins and a U.S. Open crown.
And it could have been so much worse. His health has remained robust, he didn’t have to pack his bags for an early departure, and there was no recurrence of the gruesome chipping issues that have bedeviled his game since 2014. What will be cause for concern is the series of wild misses that characterized Woods’ play Friday and Saturday.
“He’s still struggling with his sequence with the driver,” said TV analyst Arron Oberholser, who has walked with Tiger’s group all three rounds. “Same old problem – super fast lower body, upper body lags behind, so he has to use his hands to save it.”
While there is evidence of the same old issues in Tiger’s swing, there have also been signs of a more relaxed outlook.
“I’m encouraged by his attitude. I’ve been walking on the ground for Golf Channel or PGA Tour Live since 2013 and yesterday was the first time he ever approached me on the golf course and struck up a conversation,” Oberholser said. “I was blown away. We’ve known each other since we were 18. The golf game will take care of itself. I’m happy for him that he seems happy and healthy again.”
Visibly relieved after the round, Woods set a reasonable goal for Sunday.
“See if I can shoot something in the 60s,” he said, smiling. “Make it a little bit easier on myself than today.”