SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- As you might have heard, for most of his career, players have been looking over their shoulders at the figure of Tiger Woods.
Same thing happened on Saturday at the Frys.com Open, although with a slightly different twist.
Buried in the middle of the pack, Woods was in the first group off the 10th tee, which meant he played his last nine holes of the third round directly behind the trio of leaders. Curious as the rest of the planet as to how Woods was playing, Ernie Els and Paul Casey took more than a few looks backwards as Woods hit shots into certain holes.
"What does that say?" Casey said, squinting to read a distant leaderboard. "Four under? Not bad."
Woods finished with his second straight 3-under 68 and at 4-under overall, which leaves him nine strokes off the lead, but he happily described it as a step forward in his return to PGA Tour completion after six mostly idle months.
Woods was well back in the pack at T38 and moved up only three spots, but for the second day in succession, the misses were less wayward, the misfires were less hurtful, and Woods was downright upbeat afterward.
He said he's been able to make adjustments on the fly as he's come to understand the nuances of his swing changes, which began 14 months ago.
Well, I'm able to, if it does creep in, I'm able to fix it," Woods said. "That's the great thing. I hit it well all day except for a couple of straight ones here and there. But I know what the fixes are."
Making a few putts fixes a lot of problems, too. Woods and his swing coach Sean Foley went to work on his flagging putting stroke this week, and the results were quick to take root. They tweaked his stance and alignment, and for the first time in memory, Woods putted fairly well for two days in succession.
"Certain putts, you just got to make," he said. "And I get a feel for that. The last two days I really putted well after the work we did after Thursday's round. I feel like I'm getting my lines and my speed. I have got to read these things a little bit better."
Classic Woods -- well back in the pack, but still fixated on the guys in front of him.
"It's getting better," he said. "I'm improving day by day, which is good. Obviously tomorrow I need to improve a lot and make the putts and post a really low one."
His round Saturday marked his ninth full round since the Masters in April. He had five birdies and two bogeys, and unlike in the first round, when he shot 73, kept the damage from the poor shots to a minimum.
With vestiges of his old swagger, Woods sounded as though something big might be in the pipeline.
"I would like to just keep building on it," he said. "I'm definitely doing that. I was very close to really putting it together on the front nine ... I wasn't that far away from really turning it to the back nine and taking it deep."