Having stoked his legion of faithful fans with a front-nine 30 in the third round of the CIMB Classic, the demons that have crept into his game this year and kept him from having a great year bit him again.
On a wet and soggy 6,966-yard Mines Resort & Golf Club course, Woods seemed to have an advantage as he tried to post a low number and get into the hunt for Sunday’s final round.
At his best, Woods would have eaten this course up. With lift, clean and place being allowed, the table was set, and Woods would have feasted. And he started off just like the old Tiger would have.
Five birdies in eight holes, no problems with hitting fairways, distance control really good on approach shots and enough putts going in to get his elusive mojo going.
He actually got into the solo lead at 14-under, but when he couldn’t continue making birdies, he was caught and passed. Now, he’s in a familiar position of being in the mix but not really of being a real force with 18 holes to go. Too many strokes behind and just 18 holes left.
But mojo doesn’t live where 39s grow and what could have been a spectacular round turned into a ho-hum 69 that left him five shots behind surprise leader Robert Garrigus.
"On the back nine I made too many mistakes," Woods commented after the round. "Bad decisions and bad swings."
Have you heard those words uttered from Woods before?
They have basically been his mantra in the last couple years as he continues on his comeback from the disasters of 2009.
This time, the mistakes and bad decisions included: not being able to make par from just short of the 12th green; his tee shot on the par 3 14th was just short, but it rolled down a bank and into a lake resulting in double bogey; bad tee shot on the par 3 16th led to a bogey; a six-foot putt for birdie on 17 turned into a bogey when he missed and then whiffed on the tap-in for par.
He’s not perfect by any means, and the mistakes and bad decisions are part of the game. They can be, and are, made by everybody who plays the game. But because of the kind of scrutiny that Woods and his game have come under every time he tees it up, those things always seem a bigger deal somehow.
“On a golf course that is playing this benign, you can't afford to do that," Woods told reporters, referring to his back-nine mistakes. "I'm going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow, something similar like Bo did today, (62) but probably being this far back, I'm going to need some help, a great round tomorrow might not win, that's the only problem."
How easy was the Mines Golf Course playing? Only five in the 48-man field registered over par scores.
But Woods’ performance did offer some hope for those who believe he is not far from being back.
While he has yet to post many of those 64s and 65s that we’ve become used to with him, Woods has seemingly begun to get control of his game in a lot of ways, and those gaudy numbers may soon begin to return.
In the brutal heat and humidity of Malaysia, Woods has kept his cool through the first three rounds, stuck to his game plan of keeping his driver in the bag for most of the round and hit some great irons and hybrids off tees. He put himself in the position to do well, and for half the round he did.
And being able to do that for 18 holes is one of the things high up on Woods’ to-do list for next year. Once he’s able to get some of that consistency back into his game, those numbers will come back on Woods’ scorecard.
Does a big finish in this event signal a true return for Woods? No, probably not, but these are the kinds of small steps that Woods has to take to get that feeling of superiority back.
And, really, when you get down to it, return from what? The guy won three times this year and made $6.1 million.
Just how much of a comeback would that be actually?