POTOMAC, Md. – Four birdies in a row. That’s what it takes to get grown men to jump up and down in each other’s arms and sends tournament staff scrambling to keep a growing mob outside the ropes and quiet at the right times.
Tiger Woods finished off said streak with an 8-footer for birdie at seven to get to 8 under and one stroke off the lead at that time. It looked like he was about to post a real number and get into one of the final pairings for Sunday’s final round of the Quicken Loans National.
Then it all just sort of came to a halt on the back nine, where Woods hit just 2 of 7 fairways, missed several short putts and squandered his chances at winning before he heads to Carnoustie for the British Open.
“It was frustrating because I played better than what my score indicates,” said Woods, who shot 2-under 68 and moved to 7 under for the week. “It was frustrating because I thought that 10 under would have been a good score for me to end up at for the day, and I could have easily gotten that today on the back nine.”
He played a lot better than the score indicates for stretches, but the back nine was relatively lifeless and started with missed birdie putts from inside 10 feet at No. 10 and 11. He also failed to take advantage of the short par-4 14th hole and made a closing bogey at 18.
Woods’ putting stroke looks better this week than it did at the Memorial and U.S. Open. He’s not missing by much. But he’s still missing too often to win, especially entering the final round six shots back of co-leaders Abraham Ancer and Francesco Molinari.
Woods tees off at 1:20 p.m. tomorrow with Bronson Burgoon, who might be the only player in the field less familiar to fans than Saturday playing partner Joel Dahmen. In Dahmen’s defense, he shot 1-under 69 and seemed like a good sport while taking the usual amount of grief from spectators about the fact that he is not Woods. He also learned quickly that it’s better to hit first when paired with Woods, because if you hit second most spectators will already be moving toward the green, completely oblivious to your presence.
Woods’ playing partners for the first two rounds, Marc Leishman and Bill Haas, are used to it by now. Leishman played with Woods Thursday and Friday at the Masters and said he’s seen a lot of good things in the two months since.
“Yeah, it’s improved for sure,” Leishman said. “He’s got more rounds under his belt. He’s long. The woods look a lot straighter and a lot sharper. Everything looks better, to be honest. I would be surprised if he didn’t win in the near future.”
It’s not totally out of the question Sunday, but it would take his best round of the year and plenty of help with nine players ahead of him on the leaderboard. Realistically, the final round serves as the final British Open tune-up, where he’ll need to get the putter figured out in order to contend.
Woods hasn’t made any noise at the majors this year, barely making the cut en route to a T-37 finish at the Masters and heading home early from the U.S. Open.
The new TaylorMade Ardmore 3 mallet-style putter he put in the bag this week has dropped a few bombs, including a 25-footer at nine. It’s still behind the rest of the clubs in his bag in terms of production, but Woods insists he likes that he’s starting the ball on the right lines and likes what he’s doing on the greens this week.
“As long as I can keep doing that consistently, I’ll have my share where I will make putts like I did earlier on the front nine today,” Woods said. “But that first day was key because I rolled the ball on my line with the correct speed again, which I hadn’t done in a while. It’s been a couple months where I haven’t done that, but this week has been a little bit different.”
Woods is in line for his first top-10 finish since the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but so much more was there for the taking Saturday afternoon against a field with few heavy hitters. Then it fizzled out in the sweltering heat, as Woods continued to grind out a comeback that keeps us guessing at every turn.