Albany (The Bamahas): He raised great expectations with fiery displays on the opening two days of the Hero World Challenge, but then came the hard part. Just as talk of Tigers Woods’ successful return to competitive golf had started to do the rounds, the 42-old-year lost momentum on the penultimate day, falling off the pace set by the leaders on a windy, hot day here on Saturday and affirming a return to full-blown competitive golf was still some distance away.
Following rounds of 69 and 68 that saw him placed tied fifth at the halfway stage, Woods found it difficult to handle the blustery conditions, carding a three over a round of 75 for a total of four-under 212 and dropping to tied 10th. Overnight leader Charley Hoffman led the field by five strokes at 14-under 202. Woods is at four under, his back has held up well and he feels he can “fight his way back” from here.
On the day though, he would have hoped things to go better as it took him 14 holes in Round Three to get to his first birdie said Tiger after his round, “It’s ridiculous it took me 14 holes to make a birdie. “At that time, I had 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.”On a day when wind was the strongest and only five players carded sub-pars, Hoffman just rolled along.
He picked up six birdies for the day’s best card of two-under 70 to take a massive five-shot lead into the final round on Sunday. At nine-under 207, Justin Rose (71) and Jordan Spieth (72) were tied second, while Francesco Molinari (71) was fourth.
First round leader Tommy Fleetwood (74) dropped to tied fifth along with Rickie Fowler (72), Patrick Reed (71), Matt Kuchar (72) and Hideki Matsuyama (72). For Woods, problems began with his opening shot. He opened with a bogey and had three more in the first seven holes. He did not have a birdie putt in four of the five par 5s and failed.to find 11 greens in regulation. By the time he had finished the first 10 holes, he was already five-over for his round till he made a late recovery with a pair of birdies on the back nine.
“I really didn’t feel like I was that far off, that’s the crazy part,” said Woods, who is playing for the first time in 10 months following a fourth back surgery. “It was a rough start. 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.”
The back nine saw him fight back and get his act together. On the 14th, Tiger rolled in a 10-foot putt for birdie and raised his cap to the cheering crowd. Tiger smiled and held up one finger – indicating his first birdie on the day — to the gallery who broke into a laugh.
He though didn’t fail to see the bigger picture. Said Woods, “I am 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. 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 for this duration of time, it’s very different to be out here like this and try to post a number.”
Hoffman too had his share of early troubles but came back strongly reeling off five birdies at close. The 54-year-old American last won the Texas Open in May 2016 and was in the mix at the Masters and the US Open this year.
“To have a chance to win this great tournament, hopefully I can knock it off,” said Hoffman, who in October donated his earnings of close to $100,000 at the Shriners Hospital Open on the PGA Tour to victims of the tragic shooting in his city of Las Vegas.