SYDNEY (AP) – Tiger Woods waited 11 months before he found himself in the lead at a golf tournament.
It took him three holes to lose it Saturday in the Australian Open.
He opened the third round at The Lakes with three straight bogeys. He had birdie putts inside 18 feet on five consecutive holes and didn't make any of them. He made up no ground on the three par 5s on the back nine.
Woods wound up with a 3-over 75, going from a one-shot lead to six shots behind John Senden going into the final round.
“I just got off to an awful start,'' Woods said.
It didn't get much better.
In a light breeze and sunshine over Sydney – good scoring conditions that allowed for a 63 by Senden – only eight players had a worse score than Woods.
Instead of having a chance to win before some 18,000 fans who would like to see nothing more, Woods became a long shot on the two-year anniversary of his last win at Kingston Heath in Melbourne.
The cheers kept coming from the group ahead of Woods – first for Jason Day, who knocked in a 40-foot birdie putt on the ninth green to take the lead, then for Senden, who holed out for eagle with a wedge on the sixth hole and poured in six birdies for his 63.
Senden was at 12-under 204 and will be in the final group with Day, who had to settle for a 68.
“I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't be nervous,'' Senden said. “I think it's about being in the moment, playing golf shots one at a time and doing the best you can with your mental work and routine. Have fun and enjoy it, rather that make it stressful. That's all I can hope for.''
Day celebrated his 24th birthday Saturday with a 68 and will play in the final group with Senden with a chance to win his national championship in his first time home to Australia in nearly five years.
“I really want to win one, really bad,'' Day said. “I grew up watching the Australian Open and it has always been on my long-term goal list. I'm in a good position to hopefully check it off my list tomorrow.''
Woods would have been lying if he said he didn't waste a good opportunity.
It was his first time playing in the last group on the weekend since he had a four-shot lead over Graeme McDowell going into the final round of the Chevron World Challenge last December. He wound up losing in a playoff.
Woods, who had made only two bogeys over the opening two rounds, surpassed that total after only three holes.
“The round should have been an easy 71, on problem,'' Woods said. “I played the par 5s bad. I didn't take care of 13. But if I take care of the par 5s and make a couple of putts, it's a 1 or 2-under round. But I made nothing today.''
Since his last win at the Australian Masters two years ago, Woods has had at least a share of the lead three times. Each time, he failed to break par. He lost hope of that at The Lakes on the 11th hole, the first of three par 5s on the back nine.
His tee shot went well left, bouncing off a portable bathroom and settling under a pine tree. As he crouched to study his options, he saw photographers scrambling for position and said, “Can you get the hell out of the way?''
It wasn't an angry request, yet it was clear to detect the mounting frustration. He chipped under the branches, through a patch of sand dune and next to a crushed beer can where the gallery had been sitting, just into the rough.
Taking out fairway metal to try to clear the lake and go for the green, he hooked that shot into the gallery and was happy to escape with bogey.
Woods hit the lip of the cup from some 50 feet below the ridge on the par-5 14th, letting the putter fall behind him to the ground. Even so, he was lucky that it did catch part of the cup, or it would have gone some 5 feet by the hole.
Instead, it was a tap-in for his lone birdie on the back nine. And on the 17th, his approach failed to turn over and found the bunker, leading to yet another par.
Asked if he was disappointed, Woods replied, “Well, 75s are never exciting.''
Being in the lead has been rare since his last win. Failing to take advantage has been typical.
Woods shot 73 in the final round of the Chevron World Challenge when he had that four-shot lead. Before that, he was tied with Vaughn Taylor after the opening round in The Barclays in 2010 when he shot a 73.
This one was particularly costly given the timing. Only once in his career has Woods rallied from more than six shots down to win a tournament, and that was nearly 14 years ago in Thailand at the Johnnie Walker Championship.
Woods, of course, sees it differently.
“I need to play good on that front nine. Anything can happen on the back nine,'' Woods said. “If I can just play a good, solid front nine and get things going on the back nine, they have some easy holes on the back nine. If I can shoot some low scores, I'll be right there.''
Senden did his work on both sides – the eagle on the sixth, another 2 on his card with a birdie on the ninth, then four birdies on the back nine, including a 30-foot putt to finish on the par-3 18th.
Greg Chalmers had a 67 and was two shots behind, followed by Nick O'Hern (66) and Nick Watney (68), among the eight Americans at the Australian Open to get ready for the Presidents Cup next week at Royal Melbourne.
Bubba Watson shot 72 and was tied with Woods, six shots behind at 6-under 210.
Woods is a captain's pick for the United States, and for those who question why Fred Couples picked him, Woods has shown over three days – even a bad round Saturday – that he remains an asset.