SAN DIEGO — Tiger Woods didn’t say much after Round 3 of the Farmers Insurance Open.
He didn’t have to. There are only so many ways to say that the putts just aren’t falling.
The state of his game has been pretty clear in his season debut at Torrey Pines, where Woods has made strides with the swing and missed a lot of chances on the greens all week.
“I finally drove it good and didn’t hit my irons very close, and again had a bunch of close calls on putts that just didn’t go in,” Woods said. “Then finally I made the last two.”
Woods’ day started bright and early off the 10th tee at the South Course. The North Course has re-opened for weekend play and foursomes littered the grounds just a few yards away from the professionals on another picture-perfect day in Southern California.
It ended on a high note with back-to-back birdies at the par-3 eighth and par-5 ninth, good for a 1-under 71 in his third competitive round this season. Woods is now 5 under for the week and T-48 entering Sunday’s final round. It’s not where he wanted to be, but it’s another chance to shoot something in the 60s and continue to figure out where he’s at before the season really heats up in the coming months.
“I think if I can get to double digits (under par), that would be just a nice way to end the week,” Woods said. “I’ve got to play a little better than I have, and if I can drive it like I did today and hit my irons a little bit better and give myself plenty of looks – it’s frustrating because I’m hitting a lot of good putts and they’re just not going in.”
Caddie Joe LaCava said earlier this week that he thinks driving accuracy could be the biggest improvement we see from Woods this season. He made strides there Saturday by hitting 10 of 14 fairways and continues to get comfortable with the new TaylorMade M5 driver in the bag.
Woods is well inside the top half of the field in driving accuracy and strokes gained off the tee this week, and most of the mistakes have come from close range. He’s just 3 of 8 in sand saves and while the putting stroke looks and feels sound, the ball just isn’t dropping.
There were plenty of weeks like this last season, Woods swinging well enough to contend but missing too many chances on the greens. The Wells Fargo Championship, Memorial Tournament, Northern Trust and Dell Technologies Championship immediately come to mind. The putting always came around – he followed the Dell Technologies with a T-6 at the BMW Championship and won two weeks later at the Tour Championship.
Those were frustrating stretches, for sure, but Woods always seemed to grasp the bigger picture and stayed patient. It sounds like he’s taking a similar approach this week, especially considering the majority of his game looks alright.
“I don’t feel that bad over the shots,” Woods said. “It’s just that through impact it’s not as clean as I’d like. I warmed up really well, today was the best warm-up session I’ve had all week. It doesn’t mean I’m going to hit it well on the golf course. I just didn’t quite have it with my iron game again, but I drove it so much better today, which was nice.”
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Woods will take the next two weeks off regardless of what happens Sunday and return Feb. 14-17 for the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. He’s eligible for the WGC-Mexico Championship the following week but still isn’t sure if he’ll make that trip or not. Now that he’s qualified for all the big events and ranked No. 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking, there will be more tough decisions to make in terms of scheduling.
Those are good problems to have, but it it’s a delicate balancing act as Woods looks to play enough to get in a groove and not so much that he overcooks it down the stretch. He played 18 events in 2018 and won’t hit that number again this year.
Plenty of questions remain as Woods turns his attention to spring, but he has more knowledge now than he did at the start of the week with three rounds under his belt and a solid-if-not-spectacular starting point for 2019.
There are still 18 holes to go come Sunday morning. Woods is too far back to make a serious charge, but his goal of finishing the week at 10-under would be something to feel good about before leaving one of his favorite venues on Tour.
“It’s not too much to ask if I play well,” Woods said. “If I drive it like this, hit my irons a little more crisp and make a few putts, I should be able to do that.”