Nassau, Bahamas | AFP |
Tiger Woods sizzled early but fizzled late in firing a two-under-par 70 in Saturday’s third round of the Hero World Challenge, his first event after a 16-month injury layoff.
It was no day at the beach for the former world number one, but Woods did spend some considerable time in the Bahamas sand after missing the last five fairways at Albany Golf Club, a 7,302-yard Ernie Els-designed layout.
Woods, who turns 41 later this month, stood on eight-under 208 and well off the pace after 54 holes at the 18-man invitational event that benefits his charity foundation.
“For three straight days, I’ve gotten off to great starts,” Woods said. “For two of those days, I haven’t been able to keep it going.”
Woods opened with three consecutive birdies, blasted in another from a bunker at the fifth and answered a bogey at six with a birdie at the seventh and picked up a stroke at the par-5 11th as well.
But the 14-time major champion struggled off the tee, sending balls into the sand on the way to bogeys at 13 and 14 and before salvaging pars at 15 and 16. He sank a 30-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th but found sand and then water at 18 to close with a double bogey.
“I’m so happy I’m back out here competing again,” Woods said. “It has been a tough road to get back to this point. I’ve finally been able to switch into a competitive mode again.”
Woods collapsed late but again flashed moments of his finest shotmaking to excite those seeking signs he can recapture the form that made him a dominating superstar.
“Great to have you back Tiger – Special!” US President-elect Donald Trump tweeted before the round began.
Until this week, Woods had not played competitively since August 2015, when he shared 10th at the Wyndham Championship.
Woods closed with double bogeys on two of the last three holes Thursday to shoot 73 in ending his career-longest 466-day layoff but recovered Friday with a bogey-free 65.
It was his lowest round relative to par since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational, the most recent of his 79 career victories.
Woods, three shy of Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour win mark, played Saturday alongside US compatriot Rickie Fowler, both starting the day six strokes off the lead.
Five-time Challenge champion Woods was flawless at the start, finding fairways with ease and making a two-foot birdie putt at the par-4 opening hole and a four-footer for birdie at the par-3 second.
At the par-5 third, Woods chipped inches from the cup to set up yet another birdie, then sank a tense six-foot par putt at four after missing the green with his approach.
Woods found a bunker at the par-3 fifth then promptly blasted out and watched the ball roll into the hole, his fourth birdie in five holes lifting him to 10-under, two off the lead. He celebrated by smiling, raising his right arm and pointing skyward with the “number one” finger.
No sand castles for Tiger
Stumbling with a bogey at the par-5 sixth after missing a four-foot par putt, Woods bounced back with a birdie at the par-4 seventh, curling in a seven-foot birdie putt after finding a greenside bunker off the tee.
Woods parred nine after finding sand off the tee and 10 after rolling a birdie bid five feet past the cup, then sank a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-5 11th to reach 11-under to grab a share of third place.
But Woods never hit another fairway, missing six-foot par putts at 13 and 14, salvaging a par 5 at 15 with a tap-in par and making a six-footer at 16 after blasting out of a greenside bunker.
Woods made a 30-foot birdie putt at the fairway-less par-3 17th, but found sand and then a fairway-flanking lake at 18 for his second closing double bogey in three days.