NASSAU, Bahamas — Even Tiger Woods was able to poke fun at his uninspiring Saturday at the Hero World Challenge.
On the par-4 14th, Woods had 10 feet for birdie. He stared it down, then rolled in the putt. Woods picked up his ball, took a couple of steps and lifted his hat and bowed to the crowd. He smiled and held up one finger as the gallery laughed.
The extended finger represented his first birdie.
“It’s ridiculous it took me 14 holes to make a birdie,” Woods said after the round. “At that time, I’d already played four par 5s and nothing happened. But, hey, it’s just one of those days. I fought through it and tomorrow’s another fight.”
Woods turned heads and blew away expectations in the first 36 holes of his return to competitive golf, but he couldn’t continue that pace to open the weekend, shooting a three-over 75 on a windy afternoon. After rounds of 69 and 68 put the 41-year-old five off the lead at the halfway point, Woods dropped further off the pace Saturday. He’s four under for the tournament and tied for 10th, 10 shots behind leader Charley Hoffman, who shot a two-under 70 Saturday and leads Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose by five.
Days like this were expected of Woods, who is playing for the first time in 10 months. He hit only seven fairways and nine greens, and his short game let him down on the front nine. His round would have been much worse if not for his improved back nine. He bogeyed four holes on the front to make the turn in 40 and added another bogey on the 10th but went the rest of the way with two birdies and six pars.
Woods wasn’t the only one who had trouble navigating the Bahamas breeze. Winds of 10-15 mph — with gusts up to 20 mph — made Albany play harder than it has in the three years the tournament’s been here. Only five of the 18 players shot under par. Woods’s 75 tied Kevin Kisner and beat only Dustin Johnson (76) and Henrik Stenson (77). The scoring average was 72.9, 3.5 strokes higher than the first two days.
“I’m very happy, very happy that I’ve hit the ball as well as I have, the feel of my putter, overall shaping of shots and just trying to put together a round,” Woods said. “As I told you guys at the beginning of the week, I haven’t had a scorecard in my hand in a while. When you’re out there for this duration of time, it’s very different out here like this and try to post a number, miss the ball in the correct spots than it is at home.”
Woods’s problems started on the opening tee. He missed the fairway, missed the green and made bogey. After a two-putt par on the 2nd, his smoked a three-wood over the green on the par-5 3rd. With his ball resting between two cuts, his pitch came up short. He chipped on and pushed a four-foot par putt — his first short miss of the week.
“It was a rough start,” Woods said. “Whatever I did right ended up in a bad spot, and whatever I did wrong was really wrong. I just couldn’t get it turned around, it kept going the wrong way.”
On the par-5 6th, he overshot the green from the rough with a wedge from about 100 hards and his chip rolled through the green and rested on the collar, leading to a bogey. Then, on the drivable par-4 7th, Woods screamed at his ball to bite, but it missed the green right and rolled down a slope and into the rough. His flop shot came up a couple of feet short and rolled back down the hill. A chip and two-putt from there led to another bogey.
In total, four of Woods’s chips from around the green either fell short or overshot the putting surface — not counting a shot from a greenside bunker that ran off the green on 9.
Woods missed the green on 10 and two-putted for bogey, and on 11 he two-putted from long distance off the green to save par. After that, he didn’t miss another green in regulation and rolled in birdie putts on 14 and 17.
“I was trying to get back to even par for the day, that was my goal,” Woods said. “I finished three short of my goal, but I was headed in the right direction.”
Last year at the same point in this tournament he was eight under — aided by a Friday 65 — but finished with a 76 in the fourth round. He tees off at 11:10 a.m. Sunday alongside his first-round playing partner, Justin Thomas, which will put Act I of the latest Tiger Woods comeback in the books.
“I think overall I’m very happy with what’s going on this week,” he said. “There were a lot of questions that I had, I’m sure you guys have had, and I feel like I’ve come out on a good side this week.”