DUBLIN, Ohio – Sailing along on a breezy Saturday morning, Tiger Woods had worked his way into the top 10 when he stepped on the 10th tee at Muirfield Village Golf Club. He had just turned in 32, four under par, and had climbed within three of the lead.
“A lot of momentum going into that back nine,” Woods acknowledged.
One tugged tee shot stopped him cold. His drive at the 10th found the fairway bunker on the left. He needed two to extricate himself. That led to a killing double bogey. Momentum squelched.
That pivotal hole and a lesson in edge-burning were enough to turn a promising day into an unfulfilling one. Woods, 43, settled for a two-under-par 70 and out of contention in the Memorial Tournament at four-under 212.
“I'd never seen a round that lipped out more shots than today,” said Woods, the No. 5 golfer in the world, who has won Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial a record five times. “Six lip-outs or seven lip-outs today. It was unreal.
“It's frustrating, because that was the highest round I could possibly have shot today. Seventy could easily have been nothing today. I had it going, I was playing well. The wind was a little bit tricky, but I was hitting it flush enough where I was getting through the wind. As I said, I got nothing out of the round today.”
Nothing but frustration.
“As I said, this is the highest score I could have shot today,” he lamented.
Out of the gates, Woods got things going. He holed his third shot from the front-left greenside bunker for a birdie, the stroke covering 46 feet. He nearly did it again at two, just missing a second straight birdie out of the bunker from 48 feet, the ball burning the right edge.
“I joked with my caddie on two green that I was going to go over and slap him if he holed the bunker shot,” Ryan Armour, Woods’s third-round playing partner, said with a laugh. “You never know. Golf goes in ebbs and flows.”
Woods came back with a birdie at No. 3, sinking a two-footer after a wedge from 126 yards. Another birdie at five actually was disappointing after he lipped out the eagle putt from 21 feet. Again at the sixth he was denied, but he birdied No. 7 after a wedge approach to eight feet.
The inward nine included further ebb – bogeys at 13 and 18. And it had some flow – consecutive birdies at No. 15 and 16, the latter after a brilliant tee shot on the tough par-3 to five feet.
Despite the letdown coming home, Woods was encouraged by his progress, and as well he should have been when he ranked third in the field in proximity to the hole on approaches to the greens, averaging 22 feet. He hit 10 of 14 fairways and 13 greens in regulation, his best effort of the week.
“My game is right where I feel like it needs to be,” said the reigning Masters champion. “I hit a lot of good shots the last three days here and really haven't really scored like I've hit the golf ball. So, if I can combine that and get something out of my rounds, this week I could easily have been right in the mix, wasn't that far away.”
Unfortunately, he believed he was too far down the leaderboard to make a difference in deciding the outcome of the tournament. That didn’t mean he didn’t have goals for Sunday’s final round.
“I'm so far back, and there's too many guys [in front]. I'm not going to win the golf tournament,” he said, sizing up his position. “But, hopefully, I go out and play a positive round of golf tomorrow and get something out of my round like I haven't done the first three days and get some positive momentum going into the [U.S.] Open.”