- Tiger's ball striking was poor all day Saturday, and he fell out of contention as a result. But let's hold off from wide-ranging indictments of his game based off one round.
Tiger Woods's first tee shot on Saturday at Firestone went exactly as planned—a driving iron right down the center of the fairway. It was his next shot that would, in hindsight, serve as an omen for what was to come.
He fanned a wedge, the first of a number of erratic shots en route to a three-over 73 that effectively ended his quest for a ninth WGC-Bridgestone Invitational title. After starting the day just five back of the lead, Woods dropped all the way out of the top-25 with his three-under total and will begin Sunday's final round more than 10 shots behind.
PGA Tour win number 80—a proposition many thought was possible this week, given his past success at this course and his strong play at the Open Championship and Quicken Loans National—will have to wait. Woods simply didn't strike the ball nearly as well as he did in shooting 66-68 over the first two days in Northeast Ohio, and he didn't make a birdie until the par-3 12th. It would be his only one of the day.
He hit just seven of 14 fairways and nine of 18 greens, and his three-over total was his third-worst score of the season. There were misses to the right, particularly off the tee. There were misses to the left, most often with the irons. There were also duffed chips, pulled putts and a general lack of bounce in the step of the 14-time major champion.
Woods appeared to be physically uncomfortable on a sweaty afternoon in Akron, prompting broadcasters to suggest that he was feeling under the weather or, more worringly, that his surgically repaired back might be bothering him.
Woods dispelled that notion while speaking to reporters after the round.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just played like crap."
Every one of Woods's rounds is analyzed with forensic precision. When he plays well, he's back. When he doesn't, we play armchair swing coach and wonder whether he'll ever win again. No round of golf is just a round of golf—there's always a narrative. Let's resist that temptation today—more likely than not, this was just a poor ball-striking day that we all had a front-row seat to because he's Tiger Woods. When Rory McIlroy or Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth play a poor round, the broadcast simply won't show them, affording them the luxury of struggling in peace.
Not so with Tiger, and it makes the poor rounds that much more salient. Still, it's important to keep the day in perspective and take a wider view of Woods's game in general.
That he even made the field this week is a minor miracle. After missing more than a year due to spinal fusion surgery, Woods climbed more than 600 spots in the world rankings in just 12 PGA Tour starts, snuck into the top 50 and thus snagged an exemption into this tournament. Days like today are going to happen—he's a 42-year-old man coming off back surgery. Not every round is going to be perfect, and not every imperfect round means he's hurting. Bad days happen. That's golf.
The good news for Woods is he has one more round to tidy things up before next week's PGA Championship at Bellerive. If he can post a good score tomorrow, he'll wash away today's struggles and build positive momentum before chasing major number 15 in St. Louis next week.
The bad news is his last chance to win at Firestone has come and gone, as this event will be replaced in the World Golf Championships rotation by what will be the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis beginning next season.
What a magical run the Big Cat had at Firestone. He'll have one last go around the treelined track tomorrow, his tee time earlier than he'd have hoped but his comeback still decidedly on schedule.