(Reuters) – For a third day in a row, Tiger Woods treated his fans to a rousing start in his much anticipated return to competition but lost momentum over the closing stretch at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Saturday.
Woods, who had been sidelined for nearly 16 months due to back-related issues, birdied six of the first 11 holes while briefly closing to within two shots of the lead before bogeying 13 and 14, and ending the third round with a double bogey.
The 40-year-old Woods, the prime focus of attention in the 18-man event which he hosts at the Albany course on the island of New Providence, signed for a two-under 70 that put him a distant 11 behind runaway leader Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (65).
“For three straight days I’ve been off to great starts,” Woods told Golf Channel. “Two of the three days I did not continue it, but overall I am just so happy to be back out here competing again and fighting against these guys.
“It’s been a tough road to come back here, to get to this point. I missed it,” said Woods who treated his fans with a highlight at the fifth where he holed out from a greenside bunker for birdie.
World number six Matsuyama, who has won three of his last four starts worldwide, holed out from the fairway to eagle the par-four seventh on his way to a 19-under total of 197 for a commanding seven-shot lead.
Long-hitting American Dustin Johnson (72) and British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden (66) were tied for second with Americans Brandt Snedeker (69) and Matt Kuchar (71) a further stroke back at 11-under.
Most eyes, however, were on tournament host Woods, who thrilled the galleries at Albany as he birdied the first, second, third and fifth to surge up the leaderboard.
Though he three-putted to bogey the par-five sixth, he picked up further shots at the seventh and 11th, where he sank an eight-footer to sit five strokes off the pace.
As the winds picked up, Woods’ game unraveled.
He bogeyed 13 and 14 as he missed five of the last six fairways off the tee and closed with an ugly six at the par-four last after his second shot ricocheted into a water hazard via mounding off the left side of the fairway.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in St. Augustine, Florida; Editing by Larry Fine)