SHANGHAI – Tiger Woods rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on his opening hole, the first step toward cutting into a five-shot deficit in the HSBC Champions as he tried to make a move and at least give himself a shot at winning.
That also was the last step Saturday.
One shot later, Woods hit a wicked hook so far left into a hazard that he didn’t even watch to see where it landed. He tossed his driver at the bag, took out another golf ball and headed to the drop zone.
When his third round ended with a round of 1-over 73, Woods found himself 11 shots behind Francesco Molinari and having to accept that this most peculiar of seasons will end without a PGA Tour victory for the first time in his career.
“Not a very good day,” Woods said, to say nothing of the year.
He still has the Australian Masters next week in Melbourne, where he is the defending champion. He is host of the Chevron World Challenge the first week of December, which also counts toward the world ranking.
But as far as the PGA Tour, his season ends Sunday. The HSBC Champions is a World Golf Championship that counts as an official tour victory provided a PGA Tour member wins.
Woods had won every year since he turned pro and joined the tour in 1996 – 14 straight seasons – and he will fall three years short of matching the PGA Tour record of 17 straight years with a win, by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
Already reduced to No. 2 in the world – Woods could fall to No. 3 depending on what happens Sunday – he can write off this season to a disaster on and off the golf course. It started late last year with revelations of his infidelity, which kept him out of golf for nearly five months. One month after he returned, he split ways with swing coach Hank Haney and only began taking on a new swing with Sean Foley at the PGA Championship in August.
Woods has said he is making progress more quickly than when he changed his swing under Butch Harmon in 1998 and under Haney in 2004, although it’s clear it hasn’t taken hold.
“He just lacks that little bit of confidence at the moment, and I think it will come,” said Ernie Els, who played with him the first two days at Sheshan International.
Asked about his confidence on Saturday, Woods said that it was “pretty good.”
“I warm up pretty good, but then on the golf course when I have to hit certain shots, or I don’t feel comfortable, I kind of revert back to my old stuff,” he said. “And therein lies the problem, because I’m caught right in between.”
The numbers have been staggering considering what the previous 14 years looked like.
Woods has only two tops 10s – both times a tie for fourth in the Masters and the U.S. Open. He failed to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time in his career, and he fell short of the required 15 tournaments for members, which for Woods only means that he doesn’t get to vote for player of the year.
Since his tie for fourth at Pebble Beach, where Woods finished three shots out of the lead, he has not been closer than eight shots of the leader going into the final round of any tournament.
As for Sunday in Shanghai?
“I’d like to shoot something good, something positive,” he said. “And basically get it going again.”