Tiger still a believer in his ability to rise again
Tiger Woods was smiling on Friday and speaking about the virtue of patience that had the wind in his sails after opening scores of 68, 69, in the Quicken Loans National at the Robert Trent Jones GC in Gainesville, Virginia.
On Saturday the smiles were few and far between.
His post-round theme was one of 'grinding it out' as he desperately sought some inspiration throughout the third round, only to find that quality in short measure as he battled hard to restrict his score to no worse than a 74.
And yesterday, a blistering front nine of 32 featuring four birdies raised the spirits of Tiger and his supporters as he moved from five-under-par, a nine-shot starting deficit on the leader Troy Merritt, to 10-under after 10 holes.
The excitement among the galleries was palpable.
After his fifth birdie of the day, on the 362 yards par-four 10th, the question was: how low could Tiger go in this round?
On the par-four 11th, he made another birdie chance, leaving himself 20 feet from the hole. As the ball rolled a couple of feet past, at the very least, Tiger looked odds on for a par.
Roll it in, man. Then move on to the 12th - except that Tiger's concentration light flickered, and the ball banged off the rim of the hole and came back to him. A bogey four out of nothing from no distance at all.
All of a sudden, the good ship Tiger sprung a leak, began to list heavily, and took on water at the wrong time - twice in three holes in fact.
He had to take penalty drops after splashing in the aqua off the tee on the 12th and on his 109-yard approach shot to the 14th, and registered bogey on each of those holes.
The smiles were evaporating, just like his momentum.
For Tiger, this period is three steps forward, two back and yet he clings to the belief that slowly, surely, he is getting back to a point where he can be a genuine contender again.
Still, there were positives. He birdied the 17th, and drove long and straight down the par-four 18th, a tee shot of 335 yards.
From there he got down in two for par and a 68 to sign off on eight-under for the tournament.
Shortly before Woods finished, the leader, Troy Merritt was starting, and he birdied the opening hole to move the dial to 15-under.
The gulf between Tiger and the Troy Merritts of this world is more than just on a scoreboard. It remains too wide for Woods' liking but all he can do is persevere.
"In all seriousness, I played really well out there, actually. I had it at five-under through 10; I missed a two-footer on 11, drove it in the hazard on 12 but played a hell of a shot out of there.
"I spun the ball back in the water at 14. I hit the flag on one today. It was just a mixed bag of everything, but I really hit the ball well," said Woods.
The tournament host of the Quicken Loans event feels he is getting closer to putting together four good rounds.
"Yesterday (Saturday), even though I struggled as bad as I did at the start, I was able to scramble like that again, something I was missing for the last year or so.
"One shot could have turned my whole round around. I had it on the fairway on eight, had a little cut 5-wood in there to make birdie there. As bad as I hit it, if I go to nine-under there I'm off to the races but I made bogey there, and it went the other way.
"Today I hit the flag on one, and from there I didn't really miss a shot which was nice," said Woods.
The 14-times Major winner's next event is the US PGA Championship in Whistling Straits from August 13-16.
Meanwhile, The European Tour events of the week resulted in wins for Kiracech Aphibarnrat in the Saltire Engergy Paul Lawrie Match Play and Finland's Roope Kakko in the re-scheduled Madeira Islands Open.
Aphibarnrat, who beat Ireland's Michael Hoey in the quarter-finals, defeated Robert Karlsson of Sweden by one hole in the Match Play final at Murcar Golf Links.
Madeira champion Kakko became the second Finn after Mikko Ilonen to win on the European Tour. He shot a final round of 63 to set a new record of 24-under-par - the lowest in the tournament's 22-year history. Scott Henry of Scotland was runner up on 21-under-par, while Ireland's Ruaidhri McGee (70) and Kevin Phelan (77) both finished on four-under-par 284.
The Ricoh Women's British Open was won by South Korea's Inbee Park.
Park, 27, the world No 1, shot a course record-equalling 65 in the last round for 12-under-par and a three shot margin over runner-up Jin Young Ko, also of Korea. This was Park's seventh Major win.