POTOMAC, Md. — The roars that followed him around steamy TPC Potomac course for the first few hours of his round Saturday had all but turned into a whimper, as Tiger Woods was unable to convert a par putting on the final hole.
A 2-under-par 68 felt a whole lot worse than that number looks on a scorecard.
With four straight birdies and an unlikely 25-footer to close out the front nine, Woods was 3 under par for his round, two back of the leaders and headed for a few easier holes on the back nine with a chance to put himself squarely in the mix for the final round of the Quicken Loans National.
It didn’t happen.
“Oh, it was frustrating because I played better than what my score indicates,” said Woods, who finished farther behind the leaders than he started. “It was frustrating because I thought that 10 under would have been a good score for me to end up at for the day, and I could have easily gotten that on the back nine.”
Instead, Woods settled for a 54-hole total of 203, 7 under, which puts him six strokes back of tournament leaders Abraham Ancer and Francesco Molinari. Ancer, 27, is in his second year on the PGA Tour, and he shot 62 on Saturday, a round that included eight birdies and no bogeys. Molinari, expected to be a member of the European Ryder Cup team, shot 65.
Woods, who began the day tied for 11th, four strokes back, is tied for ninth.
The round began ominously, as Woods found the rough off the first tee, caught a flyer and blasted his approach 25 yards over the green. He was fortunate to make a bogey. Unable to birdie the par-5 second, Woods then hit a poor tee shot at the third and had a 15-footer for par that he converted, turning his day around.
“I just got rolling after that,” he said. “I felt good all week with my putter. It’s just a matter of making putts, and I’ve done that.”
Woods then made four birdies in a row at the fourth through seventh holes, none longer than 12 feet. He again flew the green at the eighth, having to settle for bogey, but he came back to birdie the ninth and took a ton of momentum to the back nine.
Then it stalled.
Woods had putts inside of 10 feet for birdie at the 10th and 11th holes, missing them on the high side. He curled a longer birdie attempt just short of the hole at the 12th. At the short 13th hole, with a 4-iron off the tee, he missed the fairway badly, had tree trouble and made a bogey. After hitting his tee shot through the green at the par-4 14th, Woods botched the chip and then missed a 7-footer.
In a stretch of five holes on which he could have easily been 2 or 3 under, Woods played them in one over. He got one back at the 16th, hitting his approach to 5 feet, but then failed to get up and down from a bunker at the 18th.
“I stuffed it at 10, and I stuffed it at 11. I missed those putts,” he said. “Hit a beautiful putt at 12, left it about an inch short of the hole. And then that’s where I messed up at 13, 14, two sloppy holes there back to back, and it cost me a little bit of momentum coming in.”
This is not unlike what has happened to Woods on several occasions of late. He shot 65-69 on the weekend at the Players Championship but was in position to shoot lower in both rounds at TPC Sawgrass. A possible top-5 finish turned into a tie for 11th.
At the Memorial Tournament four weeks ago, Woods was well under par in both the second and third rounds, but he couldn’t keep it going, settling for 67-68 and a tie for 23rd.
Woods took it as good sign when he shot 65 on Friday, but he couldn’t do it again Saturday.
“I just didn’t finish it off the right way,” he said.
Woods continues to be pleased with his putting, despite several opportunities missed. This is his third round with a new putter, and he needed just 27 putts for the round. For the third straight day, he hit 13 of 18 greens.
His trouble stemmed from a variety of issues: a poor drive here, a poor approach there, the inability to make a putt when necessary. And thus, a really good round that turned into one that left him feeling frustrated.
“I’m going to have to shoot a low round to try and give myself a chance,” he said.
Woods is playing his 11th tournament of the year and has four top-12 finishes, including a runner-up at the Valspar Championship in March. But that is the only event in which he has finished closer than five strokes to the eventual winner.