ARDMORE, Pa. – The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Remember last year, when Tiger Woods had his weekend woes at major championships? Remember that he would play well for two days then falter over the final 36 holes while in contention?
Well, that happened Saturday at the U.S. Open. Woods entered the day at Merion tied for 13th place, only four shots behind leaders Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel and essentially threw away all chances at winning major No. 15.
The third round began with such promise when Woods made birdie on the opening hole – as did playing partner Rory McIlroy – sending the Philadelphia fanatics into an instant tizzy. But he never made another birdie and collected seven bogeys (including one at the last hole) to shoot 6-over 76 and slide into a tie for 31st place.
“It certainly is frustrating,” Woods said. “At Augusta I was pretty close and I had the lead at one point and I hit that flag and ended up in the water.
“I'm playing well enough to do it and unfortunately just haven't gotten it done.”
Last year Woods averaged 70 over the first 36 holes of majors and 72.875 over the final 36 holes. He’s now failed to break 70 over the weekend of any major since the 2012 Masters.
This year was supposed to be different. At least most everyone thought so.
Woods won four times on the PGA Tour before June 1 for the first time in his illustrious career. He’s a different player now than he was 52 weeks ago. He’s dominant, he’s winning, he’s intimidating. He’s back. The only thing missing is a major championship victory for the first time since the 2008 U.S. Open.
It’s difficult to pinpoint precisely what went awry for Woods Saturday – so we’ll begin with everything. Everything was a touch off.
Woods’ wedge play and distance control were off all day. On short holes like Nos. 8 and 10 he couldn’t get a pitching-wedge approach anywhere near the hole. In fact, Woods missed a 5-footer for par on the 10th, which played a mere 280 yards. Many of the leaders attempted to drive the green, Woods laid up and made bogey.
Putting was not good either. Woods struggled to read greens for the third consecutive day and never looked comfortable – especially over the aforementioned 5-footer. Woods missed a 2-footer on the 16th hole. Yes, 2 feet.
So, in honor of Woods’ putting woes this week, let’s play a little game. Find the common thread among places Woods has played poorly this year.
'We had four different green speeds out there and I couldn't believe how slow they were the first two days. Yesterday, I couldn't believe how fast they were. And then today, it was another different speed again,' Woods said at the Masters.
'This week I obviously didn't putt well. I had bad speed all week. I thought the greens didn't look that fast, but they were putting fast. I could never get the speed of them,” Woods said at the Memorial where he finished 65th.
'The green speeds are a little faster than they were Wednesday [during the Pro-Am], but it's an adjustment I need to make,” Woods said at the Honda Classic.
Here Saturday at the U.S. Open, Woods said: “I didn't make anything today. I just couldn't get a feel for them, some putts were slow, some were fast and I had a tough time getting my speed right.”
Woods’ longtime rival Mickelson figured out Merion’s nuances and will take the lead heading into the final round. So have other world-class players like Luke Donald, Charl Schwartzel, Justin Rose and Steve Stricker, who all are inside the top-three of the leaderboard.
Meanwhile, Woods shot the high score in his group. McIlroy shot a mediocre 75 and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who Woods has played with four times this year, shot a solid 72 on a tough day.
No doubt, the day was tough. That’s why many here in suburban Philly expected the game’s most mentally tough player to make some noise. He didn’t. Until he does, many will continue to wonder if he ever will.