November 12, 2011
If you were anywhere near the golf world these last two days, you could feel it: fans and media alike, sharpening their metaphorical pencils to write "Tiger's back!" articles, taking to Twitter and Facebook and everywhere else to proclaim the return of the greatest golfer of the last quarter-century. With a powerful performance and the outright lead at the Australian Open, Woods appeared ready to return to the ranks of the winning.
Yeah, well ... not so fast.
This marked only the third time since his last victory in 2009, and the first time since last December's Chevron World Challenge, that Woods had held a lead. And, just like those other two instances, Woods went over par in the very next round.
His third round started ugly and went straight downhill from there. He bogeyed the first three holes and finished four over at 75, needing an astonishing 34 putts to get off the course.
"I just got off to an awful start," Woods said. "The round should have been an easy 71, no problem ... But if I take care of the par 5s and make a couple of putts, it's a 1 or 2 under round. But I made nothing today."
Worse than nothing. Check out this account of his ugly No. 11, via Golfweek:
After missing a short birdie on the 10th, he hooked his drive on No. 11 that rattled around a portable toilet and settled under a pine. Looking for a way out, Woods said to photographers crowded by his line, "Can you get the hell out of the way?"
There wasn't noticeable anger in his voice, but it showed his frustration in the round. He chipped from under the tree, through a patch of sand and next to a crushed beer can where the gallery had been sitting. Then, he hooked a fairway metal into the gallery, pitched on to about 45 feet and settled for bogey.
Woods' lead at the Chevron was four strokes on Graeme McDowell going into the final round; McDowell would run him down. Prior to that, it was a tie for the lead with Vaughn Taylor in the opening round of the 2010 Barclays. And prior to that, his victory at the 2009 Australian Masters, just a few days before ... well, you know.
He's now six shots behind John Senden, a deficit he hasn't made up in more than a decade. Still, there is some hope; Woods played like the Woods of old for two rounds, at least. If he can gather himself and finish strong on Sunday, there's at least hope that he'll justify his position on the Presidents Cup team, and perhaps even put together four good rounds in a tournament, not just three.
And we'll keep those "Tiger's back!" stories on ice, just in case.