SAN FRANCISCO — Putting problems again plagued Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship on Saturday, leaving him well off the pace at TPC Harding Park and looking at another early tee time for the final round.
Were it not for a late spark that finally saw some putts drop, Woods would have been in for a horrific day. He managed to hit just 4 of 14 fairways and took 31 putts, but he birdied two of the last three holes to shoot a 2-over-par 72.
“I didn’t make anything early,” Woods said. “I had a couple of opportunities to make a couple of putts and didn’t. They were burning edges. I had a couple of lip-outs, and just nothing really good going. Just like yesterday. I just didn’t get anything going, and had to claw and fight to get my way back, and didn’t really get anything going until the last few holes.”
Woods, 44, did not blame the putter for his woes. Much was made early in the week about his switch to a different version of the Scotty Cameron model he has used for the bulk of his career.
But this was more about the Harding Park greens, their lack of speed — to him — and his inability to adjust.
For a time, it appeared Woods would post his first birdie-free round in a major championship since the first round of the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He failed to make a birdie in the final round of the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship, a span of 29 tournaments.
And yet, Woods wasn’t getting the ball in play, either. He missed numerous fairways to the right, and it’s difficult to generate birdie opportunities from the rough. He finally rolled in a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th hole and then hit a nice approach to 5 feet at the 18th for another. He had five one-putts in his last seven holes after needing 17 putts on the front nine.
“I definitely didn’t hit them hard enough, that’s for sure,” he said. “Again, the putting green is a little faster than the golf course, and I made sure I hit a lot of uphill putts to make sure that I try to counter that going out there. I just didn’t trust it.”
Say what you will about Woods’ lack of preparation; this is just his second event out of nine following the PGA Tour’s restart due to the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. He tied for 40th last month at the Memorial Tournament — where Woods also had putting issues — and he will have work to do to better that finish here.
Throughout his career, Woods has struggled when he can’t get comfortable on greens that are slower than he prefers. It’s one of the reasons he made the putter switch, and it has led to other alterations at times.
Other issues might be due to lack of competition. He is not hitting enough fairways (just four on Saturday) nor greens (12), and he is outside of the top 50 in strokes gained off the tee and strokes gained tee to green.
Woods has one more round to try to work out some of those issues.
“Last day and we still have another major championship to play and get ready for the [FedEx Cup] playoffs, and we have the U.S. Open after that,” he said. “We have some big events to be played, and hopefully tomorrow I can shoot something in the red and get it to under par for the tournament, and hopefully I can do that.”
When the shutdown occurred, Woods was 28th in FedEx Cup points. He is currently 48th and projected to finish 49th. In order to qualify for the Tour Championship in Atlanta, he needs to be among the top 30 following the BMW Championship, the second of the three playoff events.
That means he faces the possibility of playing three straight tournaments if he wants to earn enough points to get to Atlanta. The first playoff event is the Northern Trust, which begins Aug. 20.