LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — When Tiger Woods rolled in a 60-foot putt on the sixth hole, it looked as though he was ready to make a charge at the British Open.
The fist pump. The big smile. The roar of the gallery, drifting across Royal Lytham &St. Annes.
All the signs were there.
A couple of hours later, Woods tapped in for par at No. 18.
The charge had fizzled. There was still a lot of work to do.
The good news for Woods is he didn’t collapse Saturday, even after a poor start, as opposed to his dismal weekend performance at the U.S. Open last month. But he’s never won any of his 14 major championships by rallying in the final round, and he’ll have to make up a daunting five-shot deficit if he’s going to snatch the claret jug from Adam Scott.
Woods shot a par-70 that kept him in the game.
“Well, I turned it around,” Woods said, looking for the bright side. “I got off to an awful start and battled back and got myself right back in the mix again going into tomorrow. I’m right there.”
Well, not quite.
Woods began the day four strokes behind Brandt Snedeker, the 36-hole leader. Now, the deficit between Woods and the new leader is even larger. Plus, there’s two players between Woods and the top spot. Snedeker, who had a miserable day but rallied at the end, and Graeme McDowell, who was solid all the way, are four strokes behind Scott’s 11-under 199 total. Next is Woods at 204.
On moving day, he moved the wrong way, raising the very real possibility that the longest major drought of his career — a little over four years since he hobbled to victory at the 2008 U.S. Open — will carry on at this Open.
Of course, it could’ve been worse. Woods started the day by running his tee shot over the green at the par-3 first hole. A tentative chip came up 8 feet short, and he missed the putt. After another bogey at the third, it appeared he was headed for a repeat of the last major championship.
Woods was actually tied for the 36-hole lead at the U.S. Open, but a 75 on Saturday wiped out his chances.
This time, at least, he rallied.
That birdie putt at No. 6, rapped from one side of the green to the other, turned the tide. Woods rolled in a much shorter birdie at the next hole, came up about an inch short of a third straight birdie from the fringe at No. 8, then stuck his tee shot at the par-3 ninth to 4 feet, setting up yet another birdie.
“Considering that I got off to such a bad start, I figured if I could get to 1-over par or even for the day through the turn, that would have been a positive going to the back nine,” Woods said. “I actually happened to turn at 1 under for the day, which was a bonus.”
Woods had a prime opportunity to take off another stroke at the par-5 11th, but he misread the putt and settled for par. Another misjudgment at the 15th led to bogey, pretty much snuffing out any chance of getting on a roll coming to the clubhouse.
“I had a few looks on that back nine,” Woods said. “I just didn’t make them.”
For a while, he was at least positioned to play in the final group with Scott, which would have allowed him to put some firsthand pressure on a guy who’s never won a major — and set up all sorts of intrigue.
Scott’s caddie is Steve Williams, who used to be on Woods’ bag. They were more than just employer and employee, they were good friends. But the collapse of Woods’ personal life put a severe strain on their relationship. Woods decided to change caddies as he struggled to rebuild his game and his reputation.
Not surprisingly, Williams was none too pleased about being let go. He quickly caught on with Scott, then went off on Woods after his new employer won at Firestone last year. Just imagine the possibilities if Woods and Scott had played together in the last group of a major, with Williams right in the midst of things.
Instead, Woods will again play in the next-to-last group, as he did Saturday, paired with Snedeker. McDowell and Scott will bring up the rear.
“Final pairing, whatever it may be, I was just trying to cut into that lead,” Woods insisted. “I’m five back, so Adam is in a great spot right now.”
The forecast Sunday calls for the wind to finally pick up after three days of sterling weather, which might be the best chance for everyone else to run down a leader with a comfortable edge. Then again, Woods has never thrived in inclement weather. In perhaps the worst Open conditions he’s faced, a driving wind and rain at Muirfield in 2002, he struggled to an 81 — his highest score as a professional.
“I’ve just got to execute my game plan,” Woods said. “I know the forecast is one thing, but let’s see what actually happens. Whether the wind blows or not, I’ve still got to go out there and post the round I know I need to post and execute my plan.”