PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – This time around, Tiger Woods was laughing after his trip to the island green at TPC Sawgrass.
A day after he was seething on the par-3 17th after making a quadruple-bogey 7 by dunking two balls into the water surrounding the green, Woods was giggling on the short but frightening hole in Saturday’s third round of The Players Championship.
Making a deuce from inside 3 feet improves the mood in a hurry, as Woods used a wedge to set up his kick-in birdie. And it helps to have a funny sidekick on hand, and Kevin Na filled that role to a tee.
Wood and Na weren’t exactly Martin and Lewis, or Abbott and Costello, but they made the thousands of onlookers and even themselves bust a gut with their little routine. Na was the instigator, as he faced a putt for birdie inside 5 feet. Before the ball got to the hole, Na had already taken a big step forward and was moving to pick it up. The ball barely hit the bottom of the cup before Na’s fingers snatched it out.
Woods busted out laughing. Moments later, he did the same thing.
“He almost picked the ball out of the hole before it even got there,” Woods said. “And I had pretty much a kick-in, so I tried to emulate him as best I possibly could, meanwhile still trying to make the putt. I thought I’ll have a little fun with it, but I had to make sure I hit it on line first and then I did whatever I did.”
The comical exchange was the highlight of a round full of struggles for Woods, who posted an even-par 72 and never made a charge at the leaders. When he signed his scorecard, Woods stood nine shots out of the lead.
Once again, Woods got off to a slow start. With his putter as dull as the gray skies, Woods didn’t make a birdie until the 12th hole. Bogeys on the second and third holes set him back and another on the eighth essentially ended his chances of winning. Instead, he had to start thinking about making the secondary cut.
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Woods couldn’t change his mojo as putts for birdie on the fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth holes either burned an edge or lipped out. He barely missed again on the 14th, as well.
A two-putt birdie on the 12th, where he drove the green of the short par-4, put some pep in his step. A solid birdie on the 16th was the precursor to the shenanigans on the 17th, and Woods closed with a par.
“I just struggled with the green speeds being so much slower,” Woods said. “I was a little bit surprised they were that slow. I probably made the mistake of putting yesterday afternoon a little bit, they were dry, crusty and quick. Came out this morning and we were surprised at how slow they were on the putting green.
“So, we thought, well, they might be a little faster on the golf course, maybe throw a little SubAir on them out there, but they didn’t do that. They were slow, grain was affecting it a little bit more and I struggled hitting the putts hard enough.”
For the final round Woods won’t be paired with Na, who missed the secondary cut after shooting 78. While Woods might share a few laughs with whoever he’s paired with, he will concentrate on getting as much as he can out of the round.
“Just try and shoot something under par and move up just a little bit,” Woods said. “I fought hard on the back nine and just wish I was able to put that same score on the front nine I would have got myself near that lead. I’ll just keep fighting.”