Putts won’t drop, but Woods moves up

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - SPORTS -

ST. LOUIS — Tiger Woods knew the shot was good. He struck it pure from 240 yards on the 17th hole and started strut­ting down the fair­way, watch­ing the ball land 20 feet from the pin — one good putt away from an ea­gle that would have vaulted him into sec­ond place.

And Woods knew the putt was bad. He mus­cled it 3 feet past the hole, then pulled the come­backer off line and, af­ter set­tling for a dis­ap­point­ing par, he briefly grabbed the put­ter with both hands, as if to bend it, be­fore de­cid­ing bet­ter of it.

That par was the most dis­ap­point­ing of the 10 straight Woods made to fin­ish his third round Satur­day at the PGA Cham­pi­onship. He shot 4-un­der 66 to reach 8 un­der. That was four back of leader Brooks Koepka — well within strik­ing range, but not as good as it might’ve been.

“Could’ve been a lit­tle closer,” Woods said. “But I’ve got a shot go­ing into to­mor­row.”

For the third straight day at the wide-open, squishy Bel­lerive Coun­try Club, Woods hit the ball well from tee to green — he hit 15 greens in reg­u­la­tion — and looked ev­ery bit the con­tender he was three weeks ago at the British Open, where the cheers seemed louder and more heart­felt than they’d been in the past.

It’s been much the same this week in St. Louis.

“Hear­ing the crowd, and Tiger’s per­form­ing great, it was like turn­ing back the hands of the clock,” said Ste­wart Cink, who played with Woods and also shot 4 un­der to also fin­ish four out of the lead.

But Tiger’s put­ter? It brought more moans than cheers to the fans, and more frus­tra­tion than joy to Woods.

He has not made a putt of longer than 17 feet over three days, and has only made five putts of more than 10 feet all week. As Satur­day’s round wore on, he was con­sis­tently com­ing up short as the al­ready soft greens got even slower; he had six birdie tries of 20 feet or less over the back nine and didn’t make one.

“The greens were get­ting fuzzy, they’re get­ting slow, and I didn’t hit the putts quite hard enough,” Woods said. “And I made sure I did on 17. And I blew it by about four feet and then pulled the next one.”

The misses on 17, com­bined with a missed birdie try from 15 feet below the hole on 18, took away the tan­ta­liz­ing prospect of Woods play­ing in the fi­nal group in a ma­jor for the first time since 2009 (When he lost to Y.E. Yang at the PGA.)

But it doesn’t mean he won’t have a chance to catch Koepka, who got to 13 un­der be­fore he showed glimpses of a strug­gle — mak­ing back-to-back bo­geys on 14 and 15 to come back to the field. Koepka closed with a two-shot lead over Adam Scott, with three more play­ers at 9 un­der sep­a­rat­ing Koepka from Woods.

“The golf course is play­ing soft, it’s get­table, you have to make birdies,” Woods said.

He did just that over the first nine holes, mak­ing five birdies on the front nine on the way to a 31 that drew him within two of the lead.

What fol­lowed was an­other chap­ter in a con­sis­tent trend: Woods has played the front nine in 10-un­der par this week, but has played the back at 2 over.

This year? He ranks 120th in back-nine scor­ing av­er­age on the PGA Tour, and is tied for 10th over the front nine.

At the British Open, he shot 34 over the front nine in the fi­nal round to briefly get into the lead. He went dou­ble bo­gey-bo­gey on 11 and 12 to fall out of the lead and fin­ished tied for sixth.

But his ex­pe­ri­ence on the back nine at Bel­lerive was dif­fer­ent, in part be­cause of storms that took him off the course in the mid­dle of his sec­ond round Fri­day and brought him back for a 7 a.m. restart Satur­day. In all, the 42-year-old Woods put his sur­gi­cally re­paired back through 29 holes over 10 hours in hot, sticky weather. He not only changed shirts this time, he changed col­ors — from a gray-and­white striped de­sign early in the round to royal blue from the fifth hole on.

“It’s not nec­es­sar­ily the phys­i­cal, it’s men­tally grind­ing that hard for 29 holes in this heat,” he said. “It was a long day.”

But not a lost day. Af­ter fin­ish­ing tied for 48th af­ter the first round, then tied for 19th af­ter the sec­ond, he is tied for sixth go­ing into the last.

Hit­ting the ball well and in the hunt.

Now, if he can only get the put­ter to co­op­er­ate.

Char­lie Riedel / As­so­ci­ated Press

Tiger Woods re­acts to a missed birdie putt on the 11th green dur­ing the third round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship on Satur­day.

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