AUGUSTA, Ga. – In the minutes before Tiger Woods finished his even-par 72 third round at the Masters, an effort that assures his winless streak in major tournaments will hit four years, the leaders of this tournament teed off.
Woods' round was over before it started, a pointless loop around Augusta National that delivered two birdies, two bogeys and at least two violent club slams, which is currently the most entertaining part of his game. Friday he chucked clubs, threw clubs and even kicked a club, his 9-iron.
"I certainly heard that people didn't like me kicking the club, but I didn't like it either," Woods said. "I hit it right in the bunker and didn't feel good on my toe either.
"Certainly I'm frustrated at times and I apologize if I offended anybody by that. But I've hit some bad shots and it's certainly frustrating at times not hitting the ball where you need to hit it."
Woods came here with the highest of hopes. Two weeks ago he won at Bay Hill, recording his first victory in a sanctioned tournament since he crashed his car over Thanksgiving weekend in 2009 and sent his career into a tailspin.
He believed he had put it together. He stated he was here to win. He won't back down from his stated goal of breaking Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career majors. Woods has 14.
He can still talk a good game. He sounded like he was trying to convince himself of that Saturday.
The reality is, he's going to still have 14 after this weekend. Woods is at 3-over for the tournament. He clung to the belief that "anything can happen here" and "you can make up four, five, six back on the back nine and still win."
Well, maybe. In Tiger's case he's going to need to pass 40 or so golfers Sunday. This is more likely to turn out to be a wasted weekend. It's frustrating for him because the Masters has always been the major championship course that he was most comfortable with. The course suits him. He's won four times here. Even the last two years, when he dealt with personal and physical issues, he finished in the top five.
In 1997, he won the Masters by a record 12 strokes. Inside the Augusta National Grill Room, just steps from where Tiger spoke to the press, his driver from that tournament hung in a trophy case with other memorable championships.
There was a time when you wondered if Woods would overwhelm displays like that, whether he could win six, seven, nine green jackets. Everything seemed possible. By this point, Nicklaus' record was supposed to be his.
That day seems like a relic from a bygone era, just a memorial among the others.
Even facing recovery from a knee injury, no one could've anticipated at the time that his U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines in June 2008, which he limped through, wouldn't be followed up by now.
"I was so close to putting it together today," Tiger said, even if that wasn't evident to most. "I unfortunately did not play the par-5s very well today, and it was … I'm telling you it was so close to being a really good round of golf. I just didn't take care of the opportunities when I had them."
Woods' mental state is anyone's guess. And it seems to shift by the hour. He can rant through a series of profanity-laced temper tantrums on the course and then flash his calm, wide smile afterward and say it was nothing.
Friday he followed up his 3-over 75 round with a lengthy, deep-into-the-night, under-the-lights session on the driving range, seemingly trying to work his game right, will his way back into this tournament.
Saturday he said he was just going home, maybe lift some weights.
"I'm a little tired," he said. "Last night took a little bit out of me."
The guy seems to be searching for everything, including approval from the public. The majors drought just keeps hanging there. Four years? He's 36 with recurring injuries. Nicklaus was the oldest player to win a major, at age 46 here.
That gives Woods 40 or so more chances to win five times. That's if he's healthy. That's if he gets to enter all of them.
What he does with those chances relies on him finding the consistency over four days to defeat better competition than he's ever dealt with.
Saturday, Woods did nothing. Made no move. Applied no pressure. Scared no one. He kept talking a good game, but in the end he was relegated to apologizing to anyone who found his club-kicking offensive.
It's not the buried clubs and booted irons that should worry his fans. It's that once again, an opportunity is gone, the major winless streak continues and no one, least of all Tiger Woods, knows how to stop it.
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