Tiger Putters Away Aussie Hopes

Whatever hopes Tiger Woods had of getting back into the mix at the Australian Masters ended quickly.

His 5-foot birdie putt on the easy opening hole didn’t even touch the edge of the cup. Then came a three-putt from some 60 feet on the second hole, with his 4-foot par attempt missing to the right.

It was like that all day, as it has been all week.

“If I had putted normally, that’s a couple of shots each day and I’m right there in the tournament,” Woods said.

He hasn’t. And he’s not.

Adam Bland, who was 75th on the Nationwide Tour money list and his headed to the second stage of PGA Tour qualifying school next week in California, kept a smile on his face in miserable weather and shot a 1-under 70 to build a three-shot lead going into the final round.

Woods shot an even-par 71 and was 10 shots behind, leaving him resigned to going an entire year without a victory.

It was at Kingston Heath a year ago that Woods was atop the leaderboard from the opening round until he slipped on the gold jacket, winning the Australian Masters for the 82nd victory of his career.

He’s still waiting on the next one, barring the largest comeback of his career.

“Unfortunately, I’m so far back that I’ve got to play a great round, and then I need help,” Woods said. “The only thing I can control is hopefully to go out there and put a low one on the board.”

All the low scores belonged to everyone else on a rainy day at Victoria Golf Club.

Ryan Haller had a 5-under 66 on a day so rugged that the average score was nearly 3 shots over par. Kieran Pratt, a 22-year-old Australian who only turned pro eight days earlier, got the shock of his life when he wound up in the same group with Woods. The kid was one shot better than the No. 2 player in the world.

“I saw him walking to the range on day one, and it’s just unreal seeing him,” Pratt said. “To play with him was really cool.”

And posting a better score?

“Icing on the cake,” Pratt said.

Bland briefly slipped into a share of the lead with Andre Stolz after a bogey on the tough eighth hole, but a birdie on the par-5 ninth allowed him to regain the outright lead. Over the final four holes, he had two looks at eagle — a driver on the par-4 15th and he reached the par-5 18th easily. Both times he settled for birdie, which was just fine.

“It was tough today — raining all day, and windy and pretty much miserable — but I just tried to stay happy and enjoy the day , and I did enjoy it,” Bland said. “So it was good.”

Bland was at 11-under 202 and will be in the last group on what is expected to be another soggy round with Daniel Gaunt, who shot a 68 and was at 8-under 205.

Stolz shot 72 and was another shot back.

Stuart Appleby was making a move until a double bogey on the par-5 17th forced him to settle for a 69, leaving him seven shots behind and perhaps in need of the kind of closing round he had at The Greenbrier this year, when he became only the second player in PGA Tour history to close with a 59.

Geoff Ogilvy, a member at Victoria as a teenager, shot 69 and was in the group at 211.

Woods was the only player to struggle. Sergio Garcia, who showed signs of turning the corner Friday with a 65, turned into a prophet. He cautioned people not to get overly excited about one good round, saying he could just as easily shoot 75 the next day. He shot a 77 and is no longer a factor.

Woods took himself out of the hunt earlier.

Along with missing two short putts to start his round, he was at least 60 feet short of the hole on four of the opening six holes, twice taking three-putt bogeys. He made another bogey on No. 8 with a bunker shot — well short of the flag again — that sailed over the back of the green and might have gone farther if not for hitting a pole holding the gallery ropes.

He countered with birdies on the ninth, then made all pars until a birdie on the par-5 18th.

“Again, I struggled with the pace of the greens,” Woods said. “I left countless putts short, got off to a bad start the first couple of holes. Consequently, I didn’t get anything going. I had a hard time making the adjustment.”

Woods attributed his poor distance control to the weather — cool, at times windy and raining.

“The ball was flying nowhere,” Woods said. “I just had to be committed to hitting the ball lower and harder. I hit a few good ones coming in, but not enough.”

Someone asked Bland how he managed to stay so relaxed while being atop the leaderboard since Thursday. For him it was easy, considering he has been uptight the past three months as his hopes for a PGA Tour card slipped away.

“It was just beating my head against a brick wall,” he said. “Hopefully, we can turn that around.”