USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - USA TODAY SPORTS - Steve DiMeglio


AU­GUSTA, Ga. – As the golf ball be­gan its de­scent to­ward the green on the dev­il­ish 12th hole in Sat­ur­day’s third round of the Masters, Tiger Woods’ heart be­gan to spring eter­nal.

In the two pre­vi­ous rounds, his ticker sunk as both his tee shots found wa­tery graves in Rae’s Creek fronting the green. This time, how­ever, the ball found the putting sur­face. Woods raised his hands in cel­e­bra­tion, flashed the safe sign and a big smile, and then bumped fists with cad­die Joey LaCava.

“I just couldn’t do it three days in a row. I just couldn’t do it,” Woods said with a smile af­ter the round. “I gave it a lit­tle bit more gas on it and made sure that I was long if I did miss. And I hit a good one in there.

“Missed the putt, but, hey, you know, that’s a lot eas­ier to play the hole from the green than it is tak­ing a penalty and drop­ping.”

It was one of the few high­lights in an un­spec­tac­u­lar round in a medi­ocre week for the four-time Masters cham­pion. Woods ex­pected more of him­self – as did the record num­ber of view­ers tun­ing in, with his back healed af­ter spinal fu­sion surgery, his game healthy, his con­fi­dence re­stored.

But af­ter fin­ish­ing sec­ond and fifth in his two pre­vi­ous starts be­fore head­ing down Mag­no­lia Lane – his best two fin­ishes since 2015 – his play has been un­ex­cep­tional. Come Sun­day, the only way he’ll see the lead­ers is if he watches them on TV.

There has been no Tiger magic, few fist pumps, only muted roars. He hasn’t de­voured the par 5s like he did in the past, as he’s a col­lec­tive 1 un­der on the sec­ond, eighth, 13th and 15th holes this week. He’s had trou­ble with his driv­ing at times, his short irons, his de­ci­sion mak­ing.

He just couldn’t get started on Thurs­day and then couldn’t flip the switch. Now, in­stead of try­ing to win his fifth green jacket, he’s hop­ing to fin­ish in red numbers by Sun­day’s end. He’ll need his best round to do that, as he stands at 4over par af­ter rounds of 73-75 and Sat­ur­day’s 72.

“I just haven’t got­ten it done,” Woods said. “I feel like I’m driv­ing it bet­ter than I have all year, but I am not cap­i­tal­iz­ing on it. And when I did miss, I missed in the wrong spots. My swing’s just off with my irons just at the wrong time.”

His swing was spot-on when he got to Au­gusta Na­tional Golf Club but then he couldn’t find it among the Ge­or­gia pines.

“That’s why it’s dis­ap­point­ing and a lit­tle bit frus­trat­ing,” Woods said. “I was play­ing well com­ing in, my prac­tice ses­sions have been good, and I just have not ex­e­cuted the way that I have been. I know what the prob­lem is, but I’m strug­gling try­ing to fix it on the fly and trust­ing it.

“I’m putting so well. I’m hit­ting so many good putts, they’re just not go­ing in. But I’m not hit­ting it close enough.”

Woods will leave these ma­jes­tic grounds with at least one vic­tory. The man who holds the record for most weeks as world No. 1 – that would be 683 – will move into the top 100 af­ter be­ing ranked 1,199th just four months ago.

“I’m just kind of grad­u­ally work­ing on it, grad­u­ally build­ing,” Woods said. “I’ve had some suc­cess in this come­back and I’m get­ting there.

“I just wish this week would have been a lit­tle bit bet­ter.”


Tiger Woods smiles as he walks to the 8th tee dur­ing the third round of the Masters golf tour­na­ment at Au­gusta Na­tional Golf Club.

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