By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- As the day progressed, his back digressed. But Tiger Woods still has a chance to win The Barclays after gutting out a 69 in the third round at Liberty National.
And at least on Sunday, Woods will only have 18 holes to play after enduring a weather-delayed first round that dragged on for nearly 12 hours and a second round that carried over into Saturday morning. Now that 54 holes are finally in the books, he's 8 under and just four strokes off the lead held by Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland.
Woods said his problematic lower back felt fine when he returned to play his final five holes in the second round at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. He made four pars and one birdie on the homeward stretch, hitting every fairway and missing just one green.
But Woods, who had roughly three hours between the end of his second round and the start of his third, began to feel discomfort as the day dragged on. He got off to what he called a "sweet" start, "stuffing" his approach at the first hole to 18 inches, but gave that stroke -- and then some -- with three bogeys in his next six holes.
Even battling the back, though, Woods still managed to make four birdies in his final 11 holes to climb the leaderboard -- which had to be a positive given how he felt.
"It starts off great every day, and then it progressively deteriorates as the day goes on," Woods said. "Hopefully tomorrow it will be one of those days again and fight through it and see if I can win a tournament."
All in all, Woods was pleased by the way he hung in on Saturday. He hit all but two fairways and 13 of 18 greens. He said he figured out some shots that put the least stress on his back and relied on his putter.
"Unfortunately I had two three-putts, but other than that, I felt like I really putted well and made my share of putts," Woods said, adding that he thought a number in the mid-60s was out there, and indeed, Kevin Chappell, who is 11 under, fired a course-record 62.
"The greens are perfect," Woods said. "And with it being a little windy, but still, the fairways are fast and you can get the ball way down there; if you're feeling pretty good and pretty frisky, you can drive it all the way down there where you have a lot of wedges in there."
Woods says he thinks the back issues are isolated, the product of sleeping on a hotel mattress that is simply too soft, rather than related to a medical problem.
"I mean, ... once you start off with it and then you keep playing on it, practicing, warming up, I'm loading it pretty good," Woods said. "It's not like I go out there and puff it around. I kind of go at it a little bit."