HOYLAKE, England — One day after the second-worst round of his major career, Tiger Woods had almost nowhere to go but up.
Saturday was only a small step in the right direction.
After squeezing into the weekend at Royal Liverpool just under the cut line, Woods had a different look on a dreary afternoon, and it wasn’t just his fluorescent pink shirt.
He wasn’t particularly sharp, but he was noticeably relaxed. He laughed often with playing partner Jordan Spieth and played briskly while shooting a 1-over 73 that including one double and one triple bogey during a warm, soggy third round.
“I made a lot of mistakes. I've made two doubles and two triples [in the event],” Woods said. “But on top of that I missed a lot of shots for opportunities for birdies, and consequently I'm three-over par.”
On Friday he handled his driver like an untamed mongoose (he missed all five fairways with it and played those holes at 6-over). On his first tee Saturday, the par-5 10th, Woods pulled driver again, but this time hit it down the middle. From there he drilled a 4-iron to about 25 feet, twirled the club on the follow through — just like old times — and two-putted for an opening birdie.
On No. 11 he ripped his approach to flat spot on the green and canned that 20-footer for a second-straight birdie to start his round.
After failing to get up-and-down from a pot bunker on No. 15 for his first bogey of the day, Woods hit driver on the par-5 16th and found the first cut of rough, a good miss. His ensuing birdie prompted ESPN analyst Trey Wingo to quip, “Everything in his game, right now, is dialed in.”
But any chance of a charmed run up the leaderboard ended on the par-4 2nd hole, when Woods’ tee shot found a pot bunker and he made 6 after blasting out sideways. He further buried himself on No. 7 when he pushed an iron shot off the tee and into a thick gorse bush. He had to return to the tee after failing to find the ball, leading to a triple-bogey. He sounded understandably defeated after the round.
“I've just made too many mistakes. You can't run up high scores like that and expect to contend, especially when the conditions are this benign,” Woods said. “Most of the scores are three-under par or better. I certainly didn't do that.”
Woods has still missed only three cuts in majors in his career, and his lone MC at the British Open was at Turnberry in 2009. But he hasn’t broken 70 on a major weekend since the 2011 Masters, a drought that now spans 17 rounds.
He has 18 holes left to end that major drought. The other one will have to wait.