Tiger Woods certainly wasn’t short on fireworks Saturday, but there were definitely some blemishes. Still, he remains in contention for his first win in five years.
Five birdies on the front nine at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm got Woods rolling, and the 42-year-old ended Round 3 at the Quicken Loans National with a 2-under 68. That put him in the clubhouse at 7 under, and he was tied for 10th and six off the lead when he posted.
It was certainly not a stable Saturday for Woods – and it got irritating for Tiger fans near the end – but it had more good than bad.
Following a second-round 65 to move into contention, Woods appeared he might fade back in Round 3 when his opening tee shot found the right rough and he started with a sloppy bogey. He compounded that when he missed an 8-footer for birdie at the par-5 second and left himself 13 feet for par at the par-3 third.
Woods was facing a 2-over-through-three start and a potentially lameduck Saturday. Then, he drained the putt for a huge save.
That stroke turned out to be monumental.
Feeding off that save, Woods proceeded to hit his next two approaches inside 7 feet. He made both putts for birdie, added on a third after dropping a 12-footer at the difficult par-4 sixth and made it four in a row when he rolled in an 8-footer at the par-4 seventh.
In a flash, Woods was 8 under overall and within one of the lead. That proved to be the apex.
His birdie streak ended at the par-4 eighth when Woods missed his drive left and airmailed the green with his second by at least 20 yards. It led to bogey.
He did come right back, though, burying a 26-footer for birdie at the par-3 ninth to go out in 3-under 32.
But then his round became frustrating – and all too familiar.
Woods kept giving himself birdie chances after five in six holes, with looks from 8 and 9 feet at Nos. 10 and 11. But he couldn’t convert either. His 21-footer for birdie at the par-3 12th was dead in the heart but a couple revolutions short.
The frustration furthered when Woods missed the fairway with an iron at the short par-4 13th and bogeyed one of the easiest holes on the course. He was 18 feet from the cup in the rough off the tee at the drivable par-4 14th but oddly knocked his straightforward chip 7 feet by. He missed the putt to post a demoralizing par.
As Woods has seemed to do with hot stretches of late, he’s had great rounds going only to fall into lulls and only post solid (rather than low) scores.
That seemed to happen again Saturday, although Woods stuffed his second at the par-4 16th to 5 feet and made the birdie putt to stave off the bleeding. Yet, he then missed the fairway at the par-4 18th and whiffed on an 8-footer to close with bogey.
This was another case of Woods getting on a roll, climbing toward the lead … and not sustaining that momentum. (To wit, he had six birdies on Saturday and seven the day before. His Friday round produced a 65, but he was three shots higher Saturday.)
But there’s still one day to go. So his run this week is not over. And at the very least, his switch to a mallet putter has seemed to be a modest success with some great bursts of putting this week after his trusty Scotty had given him so much trouble in recent events.
On top of that, another solid showing appears in the offing. But, that 80th PGA Tour win is still tantalizingly close and far away.
Tiger Woods in 2018 continues to be a mix of promise and frustration.