SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Tiger Woods closed the third round with a pair of birdies Saturday at the PGA Championship.
There was good medicine in that, with yet another major championship out of his reach.
You could see the healing effect when Woods was asked in a roundabout way how he would approach a Sunday with no chance to win.
“Well, people have shot in the 50s before this year,” he said.
Woods was smiling when he made the remark.
This is an encouraging sign as he continues to try to play himself out of the first genuine slump of his career.
“Things are starting to solidify,” Woods said of an even-par 72. “That’s a good thing. 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.”
That might also be an encouraging sign for Sean Foley, the swing coach who’s been working with Woods this week in an apparent tryout.
Still, Woods is 10 shots back. He’s never won a major coming from behind on Sunday. If he puts together a miracle and wins Sunday, he’ll match Paul Lawrie’s comeback at the 1999 British Open as the largest in major championship history.
Woods’ winless streak in majors is all but certain to extend to 10 majors, though he missed two of them due to injury. A run of 10 majors without a Woods victory will match the longest since he joined the PGA Tour in 1996, equaling his major-less run between his 1997 Masters’ title and his ’99 PGA Championship title.
The possibility that Woods is looking at the first winless year of his 15-year professional career looms.
If you’re a Woods’ fan, you’ll find comfort in his attitude afterward. He’s beginning to see building blocks instead of stumbling blocks in his swing.
If you’re not a Woods fan, you’ll see his hope as denial.
Because Woods struggled on a day when it seemed like everyone was mounting a charge.
Everyone but Woods.
“The course is the easiest I’ve seen it,” Paul Casey said with one roar after another rolling over the course. “It is there for the taking.”
Forty of the 72 players who made the cut broke par.
Nineteen players shot in the 60s.
Numbers don’t smile at Woods anymore.
They snarl at him.
If he was looking at the leaderboard at the 12th hole Saturday at the PGA Championship, he noticed that.
Five off the lead when the third round began, he was already 10 down plugging his ball at the tee box there.
He shot 39 on the front side.
Still, in the end, Woods sounded like a man hooked up to an IV of positive momentum.
Woods had to like the wonderful arc of the draw he coaxed to a foot for birdie at the 17th hole. He had to like the big drive he launched in the middle of the fairway at the 18th, and he had to like the 25-foot putt he died into the hole for birdie there. Actually, he birdied three of his final five holes.
“I hit the ball better than I did the first two days,” Woods said. “I made nothing. You have to putt. I stuffed it in there early on the first few holes and made nothing. No matter how good you hit it, you still have to make putts.”
Apparently, the good medicine in that finish killed the memory of so many bad shots, because Woods put himself in one bad spot after another with errant drives. While he put the giant blame for his day’s struggles on his putting, his driving remains terrifically erratic. He hit just five fairways. Over the last two rounds, he’s hit just 10 of 28 fairways.
Woods did need 29 putts in the third round, the most he’s taken this championship, but his tee shots put him in deep fescue too often to make him a factor in a major.
Asked if he was more encouraged than discouraged, Woods didn’t hesitate.
“Actually, far more closer to encouraged,” he said. “Far more.”