NASSAU, Bahamas — The surprising, impressive play by Tiger Woods in his return to competition gave way to reality Saturday as he played and looked more like a golfer who has been away for 10 months.
Woods struggled in the blustery Bahamas conditions at Albany Golf Club, failing to make a birdie until the 14th hole and falling well out of contention during the third round of the Hero World Challenge.
His 3-over-par 75 left him in a tie for 10th place, 10 strokes behind leader Charley Hoffman in the 18-player event that benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation.
“It was a tough start,” Woods said. “Whatever I did right ended up in a bad spot, and whatever I did wrong was really wrong. I just couldn’t get it turned around. Kept going the wrong way.”
Playing for the first time since undergoing spinal fusion surgery in April, the 41-year-old Woods blasted drives and sank putts during the first two rounds, only to struggle with all aspects during the third. He ended the day hitting 7 of 13 fairways and 9 of 18 greens and needing 28 putts.
He made just two birdies and had five bogeys, but none after the first 10 holes. Woods had hit just two greens in regulation through 11 holes, the result of missed fairways and misjudged shots in the wind. He shot 40 for the first nine holes and then added another bogey at the 10th.
Along the way, he bogeyed two par-5s, at the third and sixth holes, and also bogeyed the par-4 seventh, where he tried to drive the green.
And he was unable to save himself with his short game.
“I hit that shot at [No.] 3, which was 278 to the hole, and it went about 290 with a cut. I didn’t know I had that shot,” he said. “Then I was up against a collar, and that’s a bad spot, and made bogey there. Same thing at [No.] 7. I carried it too far. I was trying to carry it about 300 or so and carried it 320. Ended up in a bad spot and no shot.”
The 14-time major champion was not alone in struggling Saturday.
On Saturday, Hoffman closed with three birdies over his final five holes and finished with a 70, matching the best round of the day. He was at 14-under 202.
Woods, playing in just his fourth tournament in 27 months, settled down after the first 11 holes. He played the final seven holes in 2-under par and hit all seven greens in regulation. But he went the entire round without making a birdie on a par-5 and has now played the scoring holes — there are five total at Albany — in just 1 under through three rounds after going 2 over on them Saturday.
“That’s just golf,” he said. “You’re always going to face adversity. I’m just frustrated I couldn’t get it turned around on the easier holes. I birdied 14, but I had played four par-5s and hadn’t made a birdie yet. That’s not very good.”
Despite being disappointed, Woods attempted to take the longer view of his situation, returning to competition after a fourth back surgery and a lengthy layoff.
“It’s nice being part of the fight again,” Woods said. “Get out there and fight against the golf course, fight against the guys. That’s fun. I just haven’t done it a lot in the last few years.
“I’m very happy. I’m very happy that I’ve hit the ball as well as I have. The feel with my putter. The overall shaping of shots. And just trying to put together a round. I haven’t had a scorecard in my hand in a while. When you’re out there for this duration of time, it’s very different to try and post a number and hit it in the right spots than when playing at home.”
No matter how Woods fares Sunday, he will make a move up from his place of 1,199 in the Official World Ranking. Even if he finishes in last place, he will move up to 932nd in the world. A 10th-place finish would get him to 673rd.
The Hero World Challenge invites only players ranked among the top 50. As tournament host, Woods is granted an exemption.
Woods tees off at 11:13 a.m. ET for Sunday’s final round. He will play with Justin Thomas. Leader Hoffman goes off at 12:18 p.m.