SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – All the moves Tiger Woods made in Saturday’s third round of the U.S. PGA Championship were in the wrong direction, leaving him 10 strokes off the lead.
After pulling within five strokes of the lead in the morning and giving the plod-along PGA Championship some badly needed buzz, he had to close birdie-birdie just to stay even for the day and at 3-under 213, trails leader Nick Watney by double digits.
“Today I hit the ball better than I did the first two days. I made nothing,” Woods said. “You have to putt. I stuffed it in there early on the first few holes and made nothing, and also had a few other putts on the front nine. No matter how good you hit it, you’ve still got to make putts. I just didn’t do that today.”
The turmoil in Woods’ personal life has spilled over into his golf game, and he arrived at Whistling Straits fresh off the worst performance of his career. He shot a whopping 18-over 298 and beat only one player in the 80-man field at Firestone – and that’s a place where he’s won seven times.
He’s in danger of losing the No. 1 ranking he’s held for a record 270 weeks in a row, and likely needs to finish seventh or better here to earn a spot on the Ryder Cup team.
But Woods got in plenty of practice before the tournament began – Sean Foley, swing coach for Sean O’Hair and Hunter Mahan, was often at his side – and was optimistic he was making progress. He made a brief appearance on the leaderboard Thursday, and his 71 was the first time in eight rounds he’d broken par.
He was on the prowl again when the second round resumed Saturday morning, making three birdies on the back nine to get within striking distance of the leaders. With the fog that wreaked havoc on the first two days of the tournament gone and the gusting winds down to a whisper, conditions looked ripe for a Woods’ run.
“With the dots where they are for this afternoon, there’s some really tough pins, but there’s some pretty accessible pins,” Woods said before the third round began. “Pins that you can take, be pretty aggressive at. You’ll probably see some pretty good scores this afternoon.”
There were plenty. They just didn’t come from Woods, even though he had his chances.
He left a 20-footer short on No. 1. After making a great recovery from the rough on the par-5 No. 2, he had about a 10-footer for birdie. But the putt ran alongside the right edge of the cup and refused to drop. As the crowd groaned, Woods rubbed the back of his neck.
He missed another birdie putt on No. 3.
He had trouble on the tee and green on No. 4, driving into such deep rough he had no option but to lay up. He knew it was a bad shot as soon as he hit it, too, trying to jam his driver head first into his bag. But even that wouldn’t drop.
He ran his par putt past the hole, prompting a death stare at the ball. After tapping in for what would be the first of back-to-back bogeys, he muttered to himself, waving his hand in frustration.
“I haven’t driven the ball well except for two weeks this year and, even then, I didn’t putt well those weeks,” Woods said. “So no matter how good I hit it … I didn’t get up and down. It’s just been one of those years.”
But there is, he insists, cause for optimism. He made four birdies on the back nine Saturday afternoon, including ones on 17 and 18. And while he’s well behind Watney, “people have shot 50s before this year.”
“Things are starting to solidify, which is good,” Woods said. “That’s what I’m pleased about. It’s not like I’m working on eight different things. It’s just a couple key things, and it feels a lot better.”