The old Tiger would’ve taken the Australian Open by the scruff of the neck, brushed off wayward third-round swings with breathtaking recoveries, monstered the par fives and holed the clutch putts.
Despite not having his A game, he’d have found a way to keep his name near the top of the leaderboard going into Sunday’s final round at The Lakes.
But the old Tiger is gone.
The new Tiger has no magic in him. On days like this, he’s all alter-ego, no superhero; awkward, tentative, unsure of himself.
He can’t save par from the trees, butchers the most straightforward of par-fives and, most distressingly, can’t coax the easiest of putts into the hole.
The new Tiger allowed the promise of the first two rounds — after which he held the lead — to blow away in the nor’westers that whipped Sydney’s coast Saturday.
Woods shot a three-over 75, beating only eight players in the field, on a day when all the contenders put up red numbers.
On a day when John Senden, the Australian journeyman with only one win on the PGA Tour, shot 63.
Senden began the day six shots behind Woods and finished six ahead of him.
Woods, who fell into a tie for eighth, complained about the greens as anyone who takes 34 putts would.
But consider this: Senden’s historically been woebegone with a putter in his hands, yet on Saturday he needed to use it only 23 times.
Publicly, at least, Woods — who hasn’t won in two years this week — shrugs off the bad days, but they carry gravitas.
The last three times he’s had at least a share of the lead at a tournament, he’s followed with an over-par round.
The last time he shot four rounds in the 60s?
September 2009 at the BMW Championships at Cog Hill.
It’s not to say that the old Tiger didn’t have bad days. It’s that they’re worse now than they need to be.
“The round should’ve been easy 71, no problem. It’s a one-, two-under-par round,” he bemoaned later.
Steve Williams, Woods’ estranged caddie, once told me what really separated his then-employer from golf’s madding crowd was his otherworldly ability to turn 69s into 65s.
Any of them can turn a 71 into a 75.
The tone of his third round started early. He hit two good shots on the benign first, but misjudged the wind with his approach. His ball went over the green.
“Drew a bad lie, got a little conservative on the pitch and made bogey,” he later shrugged.
He’d made only two bogeys in the first two days, but reeled off three in a row to start Saturday’s round.
“It was an awful start,” he said.
And one from which he never recovered.
“It’s just frustrating,” he said.
What seems to happen with Woods is that when things go awry, the tempo and rhythm of his swing get faster, more muscular. And the results are never good.
“A little bit, but not bad,” he said when asked whether he was fighting his swing.
“I really didn’t feel that bad over the golf ball. But I just made nothing, and I couldn’t get any momentum. Any time I hit it in there stiff, I’d miss it, and it just happened again and again and again.”
But hope springs eternal with Woods, and so he was plotting his final-round comeback.
“I just got to get off to a good start tomorrow and let the back nine unfold,” he said.
“There’s so many things that can happen on that back nine with three par-fives and a driveable par-four. I’ve just got to get off to a positive start, which I didn’t do today.”
Woods’ struggles took the air out of the galleries Saturday; thousands lined the fairways to see a different kind of history.
His fall even disappointed Jason Day, the dynamic young Australian who’s a shot adrift of Senden.
“A little disappointed I don’t have a chance to go down the stretch with Tiger tomorrow,” said Day, who idolized Woods as a boy.
“He played so great the last two days, I was a little surprised.
“It was surprising for me to see myself up on the leaderboard and him behind me. I just didn’t expect that.”