An improving Woods still has work to do
SAN MARTIN, Calif. – Facing a slick six-foot putt for birdie at No. 2, his 11th hole of the day, Tiger Woods took his own sweet time to line it up. He was making a nice run, and this was not the place for it to stall.
Woods drew the putter back slowly, with the fans at CordeValle Golf Club silent, anxious and ready to roar just as they did in the good old days before everything changed.
The ball dropped right in the heart. Suddenly, Woods stood at 4-under for his round – 5-under for the tournament, three back of the leaders – and was charging. His gallery, about 200 strong, cheered and then marched quickly to the next tee to, presumably, witness the next sign that Tiger is on his way back.
The next sign came, all right, – the next sign that Woods, if improving, still has plenty of work to do.
His tee shot at No. 3, a par 3, headed left and found the bunker, and that was only the beginning of his troubles.
He needed two shots to get out of the sand and was quite fortunate to escape with a bogey. Roughly an hour later, at No. 7, another par 3, he hit it left again, the ball taking a bad bounce into the high grass. After he took a few wicked practice swings, it was clear he had almost no chance to get it close to the pin.
He didn’t, sending his second shot all the way past the putting surface. He was lucky again to salvage just one lost stroke, converting a 15-footer from the fringe for bogey.
A birdie at his final hole did not make up for those miscues. The momentum had, indeed, stalled, and so did the enthusiasm of the crowd. Barring a miracle, Woods, nine shots behind Briny Baird, will not win the Frys.com Open on Sunday.
The drought continues.
“The golf course could have been had today,” said Woods, who finished with his second straight 68. “I’m sure somebody will shoot 62 or 63 out there pretty easily if you drive the ball decent and hit some wedges in there.”
Woods, an eternal optimist, at least about his golf game, sees plenty of reasons to be encouraged about Sunday, and, more importantly, the future. While he missed a few short putts, he was in control of his speed and his lines. He also drove the ball better and was fairly proficient with his irons. Only his wedge game let him down.
“I felt so good over the ball today,” Woods said. “I hit a couple of bad iron shots, ones that I had wedges in. I should have stuffed those, but I didn’t. I didn’t put myself in a position where I needed to be.”
If anything, his inconsistency over the first three days, in an event with few marquee names, points out how difficult this game can be, even for the best in the world.
“His standards are so high,” tour veteran Paul Goydos said. “The altitude that he is trying to get back to, nobody has ever been there.”
In his own way, Charlie Wi, 39, can relate to the challenges that Woods faces. In 157 career starts, Wi, tied for fourth heading into Sunday, is still searching for his first win. Yet, in analyzing the State of Tiger, an obsession in the golf community, Wi pointed out a crucial difference between Woods and mere mortals.
“He’s a guy who has been there,” Wi said. “When he gets his game back, he’ll find a way to win. If you put in the work, with the talent he’s got, he’ll be back.”
When that will happen is anybody’s guess. Woods will compete next month in the Australian Open, the site of his last win two years ago, and then, thanks to the generosity of captain Fred Couples, be a member of the U.S. squad at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Sunday will likely include more of what we have seen from Tiger the first three days: flashes of his former greatness along with a handful of errant shots, followed by Woods emphasizing the good things he will take to his next reps Down Under. He is quick to recognize the mistakes he makes and believe that he knows how to fix them.
Playing in a Fall Series event appears to have been worth it.
“I would just like to keep building on it,” Woods said. “I’m definitely doing that. … I wasn’t that far away from really turning it to the back nine and taking it deep.”
So close. And yet so far.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports:
• Woods impresses, but still a work in progress
• Edgar, Maynard look for resolution in UFC 136 main event
• Featherweight champ Aldo has much to gain from a win Saturday