Tiger Woods made a move on Saturday at Bay Hill. Only it was the wrong direction — down the leaderboard. After he showed positive signs on Friday, firing a four-under 68 to get back in contention at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an event he’s won six times (before the course was redone), Tiger shot two-over 74 to spiral down to T29.
Surprisingly, Tiger’s problems didn’t stem from his driving. He hit 10 fairways — which is how many he found combined during the first two rounds (four on Thursday and six on Friday).
“I hit the ball much better today with the driver,” said Woods. “Iron play was pretty good, actually. But again, a couple loose shots here and there and a couple of water balls added up.”
Tiger notched his first eagle of the year on the par-5 No. 6, hitting a beautiful drive that cut the corner and then reached the green on two. He rolled in an eleven-footer, giving the crowd something to cheer about. On the ninth, where I started following him, he pushed his drive into the trees and hit a fantastic out to just short of the green, ultimately resulting in a nice up-and-down.
Despite striping tee shots on the back nine, Tiger’s iron play got sloppy. From the fairway with only 116 yards to the pin on No. 13, he pushed it in the drink. After a penalty stroke and a drop, he chipped up to five feet and pulled the bogey putt, walking away with a double-bogey.
“The round kind of turned at 13,” said Tiger. “I had to get aggressive there. Figured I needed to probably shoot three-or four-under par at least to have a chance going into tomorrow. I paid the price for it. I went right at the flag and probably hit a little holder up against the wind and it started right, and went two yards right of where I wanted to and ended up in the water.”
It was an unseasonably warm day in Orlando, and unlike the spirited energy among the galleries on Friday, the atmosphere seemed muted, especially for a Saturday. But of course, throughout the day, the crowds still encouraged Tiger, hollering, “Go get ’em!” Maybe the heat and humidity got to me or I was just sick of watching Tiger struggle (again). More likely, we were disappointed the compelling storylines that had developed from a day earlier were melting away.
After 13, I decided I had seen enough and started to walk in. I ran into Tiger’s swing instructor Sean Foley, who was standing off to the side and trying not to attract attention to himself. “How’s it going?” he asked. “Eh, alright,” I replied. “This day just feels kinda blah.”
“I know, right?” said Foley, who was going back-and-forth between watching Tiger and Hunter Mahan.
A middle-aged fan approached Foley and asked if he wouldn’t mind posing in a picture with him. “Naw, sorry,” said Foley as polite as possible. “I don’t do that.”
“Did Tiger just hit it in the water from the middle of the fairway?” he asked, almost in disbelief.
“Yep, he made a double,” I said.
To lighten the mood, Foley said jokingly, “Maybe Tiger shouldn’t be hitting so many fairways. That’s his problem. He was doing better when he was missing them. He’s hit seven out of ten today.”
Going through the holes in his head, he counted out loud and said, “I think (Tiger) already has 24 putts (through 14).”
Tiger finished with 30 putts, but he says that wasn’t the problem.
“Actually the putter feels wonderful. My chipping has been much better this week and my putting has been — I felt comfortable all week. My pace has been pretty good and I haven’t said this too often, but I need to hit the putts harder. I left so many putts short this week, which is unlike me.”
He made another costly mistake on the reachable-in-two par-5 No. 16. From the fairway bunker, he knocked it in the hazard guarding the green.
“I had two water balls out there and a couple short missed putts; and hence, I was two-over par,” said Tiger. “Tee-to-green it wasn’t that bad, but two bad swings, put the ball in the water and that’s three shots and a couple of missed putts; a round that should have been under par easily ended up over par.”
Actually, Tiger’s ballstriking did look better. I could tell he wasn’t happy with a few iron shots on the back nine (even the ones that didn’t end up in the water), but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we’ve seen in other rounds. So, maybe he is getting closer.
With a three-day total of one-under, he’s ten shots behind leader Martin Laird, and needs something really special to happen on Sunday. As we saw at Doral, he can go low on when he’s out of the game and sneak in a top-ten.
“Hopefully the wind blows tomorrow and I can post a good one and I can get a little momentum going into Augusta,” said Woods.
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)