SAN DIEGO — Tiger Woods’ first tee shot Saturday was so off the mark that a course marshal immediately started waving frantically to the left with his paddle.
That’s how it went for seven straight holes for Woods in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Left rough. Left of the green on a par 3. Right rough. Right rough. Right rough again. Left rough. Greenside bunker on a par-3.
Woods, who started on No. 10 on the South Course, finally found the fairway with a 3-wood on his eighth hole, the par-4, 442-yard 17th. Remarkably, despite so many erratic shots, Woods still managed a 2-under 70 in his first weekend round on the PGA Tour in 29 months. He was in the middle of the pack going into the final round.
The 42-year-old Woods described his round as “gross,” although his short game and putting bailed him out for a decent score. This is only his second PGA Tour event since he tied for 10th in the Wyndham Championship in August 2015. He had two back surgeries that fall, and fusion surgery on his lower back last April.
“I don’t know about coming together, but it was a struggle out there,” he said. “I didn’t hit it worth a darn all day. I was really struggling out there trying to find anything that was resemblance of a golf swing. But I was scoring, I was chipping, putting, I was grinding. I was trying to miss the ball on the correct sides because I know I didn’t have it, trying to give myself the correct angles and I did that most of the day. Then I had to rely on my touch, my feel, my putting and it’s been good all week.”
If he didn’t have such a good short game, “It would have been snowing on me,” Woods said, using a euphemism for shooting in the 80s. “It would have been snowing.”
And if he’d have hit more fairways? “It would be in the 60s. I don’t think I would be contending right now, but it would be in the 60s.”
Woods gave his back a good workout in the rough. However, other than an exaggerated contortion after chopping his second shot of the day out of the deep rough and into a trap, he didn’t show much frustration. Maybe that’s because he saved par on his first hole and then, after a bogey on 11, had two straight birdies.
Woods has hit only six fairways since Thursday. He said the problem isn’t with his driver. “It’s just my swing. My feels are different. I’m struggling with my feels out there, hitting certain shots. Some of my go-to shots aren’t there. Some of my shots I like to hit under certain circumstances aren’t there, either. The only thing I have is my short game and my heart and that got me through today.”
Alex Noren of Sweden gave himself a chance to make his mark in America with a 3-under 69 on Saturday for a one-shot lead going into the final round.
Noren finished strong, unlike some of his top challengers. He drilled his second shot over the water on the par-5 18th at Torrey Pines to the back fringe, setting up a simple two-putt birdie.
Ryan Palmer had a chance to tie him for the lead until he came out of a wedge and missed the green to the right. He settled for par and a 73.
Jon Rahm, the defending champion who can go to No. 1 in the world with a victory this week, was poised to get within one shot, or possibly tie for the lead. From the middle of the fairway, Rahm’s 4-iron came up short and into the water. After a penalty drop, his wedge bounced hard and through the green. His chip came out soft, and he missed a 6-foot putt to make double bogey.