PACIFIC PALISADES – It was seven minutes before the leaders teed off in the third round of the Genesis Invitational when Tiger Woods' tournament pretty much ended, if only as a competitor and not as the host.
As the final threesome of Matt Kuchar, Rory McIlroy and Harold Varner III arrived at the first tee by the iconic clubhouse, Woods stood over an 18-foot birdie putt a few hundred yards away on the 13th green. Split tees are used at Riviera Country Club, so on Saturday morning the lower reaches of the leaderboard go off No. 10. That's where Woods began a round in which he needed a low number to get back into the mix. No. 13 was his fourth hole, and he was already 1 over par for the round.
That 18-footer for birdie was well wide left of the hole, leaving a relative tap-in of 28 inches.
That one lipped out, leaving a bogey putt that was 10 inches longer than the par effort.
That too missed, leaving a three-footer for double bogey.
That one curled in on the left side. Four putts, the second time he has done that this year.
Tiger Woods had frustrating third round Saturday at the Genesis Invitational that left him well back of the leaders. (Photo: Tim Bradbury, Getty Images)
"That was a lot of shots. I hit the ball quite a few times, especially on the greens," Woods said after the round. "It was a long day."
The disaster on the 13th left Woods a dozen shots behind leader Matt Kuchar. On paper at least that is not an insurmountable deficit with 32 holes to go, but Riviera often produces bunched leaderboards and Woods was T-66 among the 68 players who made the cut. The only man lower on the leaderboard at the time was Ryan Palmer, playing two groups ahead, who had just made a sextuple bogey 9 on the 14th hole after needing six swipes to escape a greenside bunker.
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Woods did claw back a couple of birdies early on his second nine, but his scorecard was littered with errors, most of them on the greens. He three-putted for bogey on No. 14 and missed a 7-footer for par on 16. After reaching the par-5 17th in two majestic swings, he triple-jacked again from 51 feet for a disappointing par. There was another bogey at the fourth, his third of the day on the par-3s. The final indignity came on the ninth green, his last hole of the day: a three-putt from 12 feet.
He signed for a round of 76. He was at a loss to explain his struggles with the putter. "I don't know, I didn't putt well today at all," he said. "I didn't have a feel for it, I didn't see my lines, I couldn't feel my pace and I was just off."
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Strokes Gained statistics ebb and flow through a round with all the predictability of Los Angeles traffic. By the time Woods made the turn – already 5 over for the day – he was losing more than five shots to the field on the greens and ranked near the bottom in the Strokes Gained Putting category. He hit half of the greens through 54 holes and needed 88 putts, 33 of which came on Saturday. That grisly four-putt left him with recreational-golfer level 19 putts for the eight greens he hit in regulation. The poa greens at Riviera are small and bumpy, and even on a good week that can be like putting on teenage acne. This week the greens have been lightning fast and firm, but that is true for every player, and almost none have been worse with the flatstick.
He admitted that his body was less than 100 percent this week. "I feel stiff, but I have weeks like that, especially in the cold mornings like it was the other day," he said with a shrug. "Don't quite move as well and that's just kind of how it's going to go."
His 76 left him 15 strokes off the pace Saturday. His streak at Riviera, where he debuted as a 16-year-old amateur in 1992, is destined to reach 0-for-14.
Having elected to skip next week's WGC Mexico Championship, Woods' schedule will be the subject of intense speculation as he prepares to defend his Masters title in 54 days. The Tour's Florida swing begins one week after the Mexico stop, raising the possibility that Woods will play a home game at the Honda Classic or the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he has won eight times. Since the API is followed by the Players Championship, it is unlikely Woods will play three straight weeks given his famously fragile body. A couple of starts in his home state and a likely appearance at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in late March would give Woods five starts this year before he gets to Augusta National, the same as he had in '19 before winning his fifth green jacket.
"You know, that's the fun part of trying to figure this whole comeback – how much do I play, when do I play, do I listen to the body or do I fight through it?" Woods said. "There are some things I can push and some things I can't. And so I had a theory this year that I may play about the same amount. What did I play, 12 times last year? So that's kind of my number for the year. I can't play a lot more than that just because of the physical toll and I want to stay out here for just a little bit longer."
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