NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. - Perhaps St. Andrews will be where it all comes together. Tiger Woods knocked a bit more of the rust off his game in Saturday's third round of the AT&T National, but clearly more remains. Woods' even-par 70 was impressive mostly because he was three over after six holes, the results of several baffling shots that indicate this is still a work in progress.
Tiger bogeyed No. 1 from the middle of the fairway, missing the green with a short iron and then failing to convert a 10-foot par putt. He followed that with a bogey on No. 2 when he drove into the right rough and, unable to control the ball out of the high grass, got the ball on the green but left it above the hole, from which he three-putted, missing a five footer.
The horrific start peaked on No. 6 when he tried a knocked down bump-and-run shot into the green from 60 yards, took a divot about the length of a par-3, and left the ball short of the green, making another bogey when he missed a 6-foot par putt.
"That was just a horrible shot, I just wasn't committed to it," Woods said. "And that was about as worse of a start as you could possibly get off to. I was hoping to shoot 64 today and get back in the tournament."
Still, Woods was upbeat about his effort, although he now has no chance to win. He said he found something with his putting stroke when he birdied No. 8 from five feet - the first of three birdies in a six-hole stretch - and was generally pleased with his ball striking.
"As I've played more tournament golf this year it's getting better," he said. The third round of the AT&T National was only Woods' 20th competitive round of the year and, as in many rounds he has played recently, the result could have been better.
Even after Woods put the bad six-hole start behind him, he made some sloppy shots coming in. He missed a seven-foot birdie try on No. 14 then bogeyed the next hole when he drove wildly to the right and clipped a tree with his second shot.
His feelings about that bogey were well expressed by the massive drive he hit on the par-5 16th hole, reaching the green in two on the 558-yard, uphill hole with a 5 iron. But on 18 he blocked another one, urging the ball to "go way right" as it faded away. He managed to save par there.
The final round of the AT&T on Sunday will be Woods' final tune-up under competitive conditions before the British Open at St. Andrews, where he has won both times he played there in a British. Can he be in major championship form by the time he gets to Scotland? He may not need it.
Let's put it this way: Woods finished fourth in both the Masters and the U.S. Open with far from his A game. By his own admission he "had it going to 12 holes at Pebble" in shooting a 66 in the third round of the U.S. Open. But he has yet to put together a complete round. Don't be surprisd if that happens at St. Andrews.
-- Ron Sirak