The tournament was another encouraging step for Woods. With physical strength having been such a crucial part of his game during his years of dominance, there was concern that his recurring back trouble would stall his career at 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour wins. But Woods, 42, gave a resounding answer to anyone who thought he would be a sideshow in his latest comeback. His third-round score of 69 marked his first round in the 60s since the 2015 Wyndham Championship, a span of 917 days. Woods flashed signs this week that he was regaining command of his game. He had 14 putts for birdie in the third round, and all but one of them were from inside 25 feet.
“It probably was the highest score I could have shot today,” Woods said after Saturday’s round.
Whether Woods is truly healthy again, as he claims, there is no denying that he is swinging with renewed ferocity. The warm weather presented perfect conditions for Woods’s back. He ripped a 361-yard drive on No. 10 on Friday, ranked third in driving distance for the week averaging 319 yards and unleashed a blistering 128-mile-per-hour swing. Most impressive, he led the field in proximity to the hole on approach shots, averaging 29 feet 3 inches.
Woods’s drives were crooked in his season debut at Torrey Pines, but he survived the cut there on guile and guts and finished tied for 23rd. A week ago at Riviera Country Club, erratic ball-striking led to a career-low 16 greens over two rounds, and a missed cut.
Playing in a frisky, fickle wind this week, Woods shaped shots both ways and controlled the trajectory of his ball, scraping the clouds and hitting three-quarter knock-down shots when the situation called for it. His chipping woes, which stymied previous comeback attempts, no longer seem to be a concern.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” Woods’s caddie, Joe LaCava, said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
At the top of the list is a miss to the left when Woods’s aims left to hit a left-to-right shot.
“He’s got to find a go-to safety shot,” said Nick Faldo, the CBS Sports analyst. “Whether he’s good enough to hit a 2-yard fade or 20-yard fade, it has got to fade. You can’t aim left and hit it left. That’s a killer for anyone. If he can perfect that, he can play anywhere.”
Count Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods during the third round at Torrey Pines and during the first two rounds of the Honda Classic, among those impressed by the progress Woods already has made.
Said Snedeker: “I don’t see it going backward from here.”