On a day at the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields in which scores were there to be had in the early wave, Tiger Woods nearly took advantage but he couldn't close the deal at the very end. Woods settled for a 2-over 72, which was both his best score of the week and his third straight round over par at this tournament.
Woods had it going early with birdies at Nos. 3 and 4 -- two holes he had not birdied all week -- and went out in 33 on the front nine, which was his best nine-hole score this week by three strokes. The back nine, which played more difficult than the front on Saturday morning, proved to be a tougher test for Tiger as well.
He played that side in 39 as one massive mistake -- a triple at the par-4 17th -- cost him. The entire hole was a mess. Woods missed right off the tee (a theme for him this week!), hit a horrific shot out of the thick rough and couldn't find the green from there. He turned a potential 69 into something over par in a hurry. To put it in perspective, over the other 17 holes on the course, Tiger gained nearly two strokes on the field. On the 17th, he lost nearly three.
Other than that one hole, Tiger played pretty well. He putted it much better than he's been putting it, and the game looked sharper on a difficult course than it has all week. It was a reminder that one abominable hole can derail four hours' worth of work. It's the toughest lesson in golf.
Woods now sits at 10 over on the week, 11 strokes back of the leaders at the time he finished and with absolutely no chance to finish in the top five and make the field at the Tour Championship at East Lake next weekend. That means his 2019-20 PGA Tour will end on Sunday at Olympia Fields.
It's been a weird one for the Big Cat. He won in Japan last fall, but everything in this calendar year has been fairly disappointing. He has just one top 10 -- hell, he has just one top 30 this year-- and he was kept from playing myriad events because of a tenuous body.
The good news now is that we're not talking about that body as he begins to prepare for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot in just three weeks. The bad news is that his game isn't sharp enough right now to contend at that iconic track. Olympia Fields is a pretty decent facsimile for what a U.S. Open at Winged Foot will look like, and Woods has not been up to the challenge.
He's not driving it particularly well -- Woods has hit just 19 of 42 fairways through three rounds -- and his putter is not allowing him to get away with that. It's not just a single thing right now that's holding him back but a litany of mistakes, small as they are, that are keeping him from playing at the level he wants to play at in championship conditions.
Maybe that changes on Sunday, maybe he shoots a 65 and we all walk away wondering whether he actually can win major No. 16 here in three weeks. That seems unlikely, though, and Woods' season will likely end how it began last fall (right before he won in Japan). With questions about what the future looks like, how much his body will let him work and improve and how long one of the great sports careers of all time can continue at the highest level.