CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Since his return to competition six months ago after a year off for back surgery, Tiger Woods has been, in a word, ordinary.
Woods has shown signs of brilliance in his game – notably, three top-5 finishes – but too many other times, his play has been ineffective.
Though Woods, at 42, has surprised many observers after back-fusion surgery, he still struggles to string four rounds together, which was a trait that led to his 79 PGA Tour victories, including 14 major championships.
In March, Woods came close to his first victory in five years, tying for second at the Valspar Championship. A week later, a T-5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational seemed to indicate that he was a force on Tour again. He failed to contend in his next five starts, missing the cut in the recent U.S. Open, before closing with a 66 to post a T-4 at the recent Quicken Loans.
Even in the first two rounds of this week’s British Open at Carnoustie, Woods could manage no better than back-to-back par 71s. He found himself six strokes behind 36-hole leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner.
But that was all before Saturday’s third round, when Woods generated more power than the windmills in the North Sea. He wound up the crowd here on Scotland’s east coast as only Woods can do, at one point sharing the lead at 6 under. Woods fell back with a bogey on the 248-yard, par-3 16th and posted a 5-under 66, eventually ending the third round in a tie for sixth at 5-under 208 (scores).
“I've been there close enough with a chance to win this year,” Woods said after his lowest round in a British Open since a second-round 65 at Royal Liverpool in 2006, when he won his third and most recent Claret Jug. “Given what happened the last few years, I didn't know if that would ever happen again, but here I am with a chance coming Sunday in a major championship. It's going to be fun.”
Scoring conditions proved to be ideal for most of Saturday’s third round, with 41 of the 79 players who made the cut breaking par. But Woods has some issues to address in today’s final round.
Woods has compiled the best third-round scoring average on the PGA Tour this season, at 68.44, but his final-round scoring average is almost two shots worse, at 70.11, to rank T-52.
Weather also could be an issue today. Woods will be paired with Italy’s Francesco Molinari in the third-to-last group and face forecast winds of 20-30 mph (tee times).
“It would be nice if there weren't a lot of guys between myself and the lead, but not the way this golf course was going to set up,” Woods said. “We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that.”
Woods thinks he is one of those 10 or 12 potential winners, but he would need to post a score similar to Saturday’s and maybe need for the three leaders – Americans Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner – to back off from their 9-under pace.
Spieth, the defending champion, has given no indication this season that he is likely to back up today. He leads the Tour in final-round scoring average, at 68.27.
That’s a lot for Woods to overcome.
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli