Woods struggled with his driver all day, and after a 2-over 72 fell to 1 over after three rounds at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
An eight-time winner and defending champion at Firestone, Woods managed just one birdie, a kick-in following a flagged iron shot at the par-3 fifth hole. After finding only one of nine fairways with the driver during a second-round 71, Woods missed the target with each of his first six drives Saturday, including a wayward drive at No. 6 that led to a double bogey.
Despite the difficulties, Woods’ post-round concerns were focused on his efforts on the greens.
“I did not putt well again,” Woods said. “I hit it pretty decent today, which was nice. I just didn’t putt well at all again today. I couldn’t get comfortable with my setup, and unfortunately it just kind of worked out that way.”
His comments came as a surprise, considering the fact that he took only 26 putts during the third round – his lowest total of the week. Of course, it’s easier to take fewer putts when you hit only seven of 18 greens in regulation, as Woods did.
As the number of rounds left in his Ryder Cup audition continue to dwindle, Woods relied on some familiar answers following his ninth competitive round since back surgery.
“I just need more reps,” he said. “Still continue to stay at it because I’m actually getting better the more rounds I’m playing. I’m actually getting my feel back.”
While Woods painted a relatively rosy picture, the stat line this week has been decidedly less optimistic. He hit just six of 14 fairways during the third round – and went 2-for-9 with the driver – bringing his week-long accuracy off the tee to 42.8 percent.
Compare that with last year, when Woods found the fairway 62.5 percent of the time en route to a seven-shot victory.
Despite the drop-off, his comments sounded more like a player working through a small issue on the range than one who has batted .167 with the big stick the last two days.
“I actually smoked it coming home, which is nice. I figured something out there. Unfortunately, too little, too late,” he said. “If I continue doing what I was doing coming into today, I’ll be just fine.”
Mired in the middle of the leaderboard, Woods now needs to win next week’s PGA Championship to have any chance of qualifying for the FedEx Cup playoffs. His prospects for a captain’s pick from Tom Watson for next month’s Ryder Cup squad remain unknown, though his results off the tee this week probably aren't helping his cause.
This week's performance is also showing a striking similarity to the script from his last start at the Open Championship: a solid, sub-par opening round to move into the fringe of contention, followed by over-par efforts that dropped him further down the standings as his accuracy off the tee dwindled.
If he has concerns on any of those fronts, though, Woods certainly didn’t display them in his post-round reflection.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. “It took me a while to get my playing feel back again. I’m starting to get the feel of my hands to hit the ball the right distance. That’s something I didn’t do a very good job of at Congressional.
“Each day, I’ve done better with my hands and the feel, and getting the right number.”
While his iron accuracy has shown signs of improvement, not even Woods can conquer Firestone from the rough. That’s right where his drives have put him, and whether he wants to admit it, that’s why he has faded from contention this week on a course where he has traditionally dominated.