Tiger hurtin’ but still in hunt

Gary Woodland wasn’t on the PGA Tour when Tiger Woods was godly.

So perhaps he can be forgiven for the answer he gave on Saturday when asked if seeing Woods’ name behind him on the leaderboard at The Barclays changes anything.

“No,” Woodland said. “It doesn’t matter. I go and execute and I’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter who’s in front of me or behind me.”

Though undoubtedly an answer that would make his sports psychologist proud, how many golfers would’ve been so gung-ho when Woods was in his pomp?

It never led to anywhere good; Woods has an elephant’s memory, and he never forgets nor forsakes.

He turned recalcitrant players like Stephen Ames, Rory Sabbatini and Sergio Garcia into roadkill for publicly questioning him.

But, as Greg Norman keeps saying, these days the Tiger intimidation factor isn’t what it once was.

That’s not to say that it can’t be again, but he’s going to need to teach a new generation of golfers that there’s no upside to selling him short.

A come-from-behind win at Liberty National on Sunday would, then, send a message, and not just to Woodland.

Six wins in a season returns Woods — at the very least — to his level of 2009, predating the scandal that changed everything.

In order to win, though, he’ll need something special.

Woods showed on the longest of Saturdays in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty that he’s not short on courage.

It might not have been winning the U.S. Open on one good leg, but he played 23 holes with a back that got progressively worse, yet found a way to leave himself with a shot at victory.

“You just figure out something to get it around, and I did,” he said with a shrug.

“Just hung in there; it was a grind.”

Woods, who walked gingerly to his car after his round, shot a two-under par 69 to be within four shots of the lead.

More significantly, though, he is behind just three players: Co-leaders Matt Kuchar and Woodland, who are at 12-under par, and — one stroke behind them — Fresno’s Kevin Chappell, who shot the course record of 62 on Saturday.

Woods may have been in pain, but he retained a sense of humor.

When someone noted it looked like the hardest part of golf wasn’t making birdies — he had three over the final six holes — but bending over to pick the ball out of the hole, which he took a long time to do, Woods laughed.

“Boy, you’re not lying,” he said.

“I’m glad that’s done for the day.

“I told (caddie) Joey (LaCava) to meet me at the range.”

LaCava obviously wasn’t falling for that.

Woods complained of having a sore back and neck on Wednesday, blaming it on a soft bed at his Jersey City hotel. Ironic given the hotel chain in question is renowned for its high-quality mattresses.

Woods didn’t play the inward nine of his pro-am to protect against injury, but it’s clear that despite nightly treatment, it has yet to resolve itself.

The pattern, Woods said, has been the same.

“It starts off great every day, then it progressively deteriorates as the day goes on,” he said.

He didn’t think it was a chronic disc problem.

“It’s isolated,” he said.

The problem is that the back needs treatment and rest but he can only get one of those.

“You keep playing on it, practicing, warming up. I’m loading it pretty good,” he said.

“It’s not like I go out there and puff it around. I go at it a little bit.”

Because of the almost six hours of rain delays on Thursday, Woods was back at the course at the crack of dawn on Saturday with five holes to finish of his second round.

He played those in one-under par, then faced a 2 1/2-hour wait till he teed off in the third round. Despite having to get his back in shape again, Woods got off to what he called “a sweet start,” stuffing an iron to a foot on the first hole.

But as he did in the second round, he lost momentum and fell off the leaderboard after three bogeys in six holes.

“I kind of just hung around, hung around and had a nice finish. Birdied three of the last (six),” he said.

Woods was looking for a swing to protect his back, and settled on a cut that sometimes grew into what could be described as a large fade given that a 14-time major champion couldn’t possibly slice.

Woods laughed.

“You know what, whatever the shot shape is,” he said. "Some days it’s a big, roping draw and other days it’s a slap slice. I just figured out some shots that I knew I could play today, and just relied on my putter.”

He said he’d again get treatment for his back on Saturday night and then hope it will be enough.

“Hopefully, tomorrow [Sunday] I (can) fight through it and see if I can win the tournament,” he said.