KEEP CALM: Tiger Woods struggles early, finishes strong
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Tiger Woods got off to a rough start in Saturday’s third round of the Hero World Challenge, posting a four-over 40 on the front nine, but he finished strong, playing the last five holes at two-under to shoot three-over 75.

EVERYONE TAKE A DEEP BREATH — it’s going to be OK! Tiger was bound to have an “off” day; almost every player, including the eventual winner, has one round over four days that feels more like a grind. The difference is usually how the player manages to contain the damage. And the conditions were tougher, with the wind up from the previous days. In fact, the scoring average of the field was three shots higher.

Scoring Averages at the par-72 Albany Golf Club:

Front 9; Back 9; Total; Cumulative

Round 1: 34.55, 34.89; 69.44 ---

Round 2: 34.55; 34.88; 69.43 ---

Round 3: 36.06; 36.82; 72.88; 70.61

Remember: Tiger is really, really rusty. Playing for money (regardless of how much) with your buddies for fun is worlds apart than competition when you have scorecard and pen in hand. It’s hard to describe just how much more focus and mental acuity the latter takes unless you’ve been there.

“It’s just more that there’s so much more at stake,” explained Woods. “If you miss a shot at home, it’s no big deal. Here, it can snowball a round. If you go out there at home and make nine birdies and five bogeys, who cares, but it matters out here. That’s the difference is just posting a number.”

And holing out every putt?

“Exactly, 100 percent,” said Woods.

When the wind blows, small mistakes are exaggerated and players are also forced to adjust. Combine the conditions with the fact that Tiger hadn’t played a competitive round in over three hundred days (and even before that, he hasn’t competed much in recent years), and I think he actually did quite well.

Tiger emphasized how well he felt like he was hitting the ball, but just had one of dem days. Shit happens! I think striking the ball pure regardless of the result is more encouraging and preferable than not making solid contact but getting away with it.

“It was a rough start,” said Woods. “Whatever I did right, I 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.

“I hit that shot at 3, which was 278 hole, and I flew it about 290 into the wind with a cut. I did not have that shot and ended up against the collar, which is a bad spot and made bogey there. Same thing at 7, I carried it too far. I was trying to hit it 300 or so and I carried it about 320 and ended up in a bad spot that I had no shot.”

And don’t forget — it’s a huge plus and major win that he’s played and finished three straight rounds pain-free!

“Probably a little more dehydrated,” quipped Woods when asked if anything felt different compared to the start of the week. “No, I’m being a smartass.

“I feel good. I feel like I’ve got some experience in. I was telling (Golf Channel’s Steve Sands) out there, it’s nice to be part of the fight again. Get out there and fighting against the golf course, fighting against the guys, that’s fun. I just haven’t done it a whole lot in the last few years…”

The fact that Tiger was five-over through 10 and finished three-over is encouraging. He was able to turn it around and shift the momentum. He only hit two greens in regulation through the first 11 holes and struggled with his chipping/pitching, but then he hit seven straight to close out.

“I was trying to get back to even par for the day– that was my goal,” said Woods. “I finished three short of my goal but I was headed in the right direction. I wish I could have capitalized on 15 and a couple other putts I had in there. Missed a putt there at 13 as well. I had a chance to probably get to even par for the day…

“I’m not the only one who’s struggling at times out here. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to turn the round around. Hideki today, I think he made 50 birdies and 50 bogeys. (Laughs.) I just couldn’t get birdies like he it.”

So, Tiger took a bit of dive down the leaderboard, and he’s totally out of contention — 10 shots behind leader Charley Hoffman — but this week has still been been a success. And barring a freak accident Sunday, like a weird swing that tweaks his back and triggers something that causes a setback and/or pain, it will be tough to consider his performance and form this week as anything less than a positive and favorable result. In fact, he’s even surpassed his expectations.

“Well, I forget what the line was to even make it four days,” said Tiger. “That kind of question, times have changed a little bit.”

See, Tiger is just happy to be competing and swinging without pain.

“I liked it,” said Tiger. “I like to be able to fight out there. Unfortunately I just couldn’t get it turned around. At 6 I should have played for the flyer and if I don’t catch it I’m 30 feet short of the hole. If I catch it I’m near pin high and I didn’t do it. I just thought I could get it up there next to the hole and I caught a flyer and I’m over the green in the rough. Little things like that, those are little mistakes that could snowball a round, which it did.”

Yep, rust.

As he’s cautioned and emphasized all week, temper the expectations and don’t overhype anything. Give him some time.

“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,” said Woods. “I haven’t — 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.”

In former Tiger-speak, he needs more “reps.”

Bottomline and takeaway: Woo-hoo! Hooray!