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Tiger frustrated after more struggles

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Tiger Woods had not competed at Augusta National since 2015. AFP

AUGUSTA (AFP) – Tiger Woods admitted frustration and disappointment with slow progress in his comeback from back surgery after struggling off the tee again in Saturday’s third round of the Masters.

The 14-time major winner, who had not competed at Augusta National since 2015 because of nagging back issues, fired a level-par 72 to stand on 4-over 220 after 54 holes in his first major since 2015.

The 42-year-old American, who underwent spinal fusion surgery last year, had notched two top-5 finishes in tuneups last month to spark “Tigermania” excitement that he was ready to again contend in majors.

But he hit only 4-of-14 fairways and again struggled with iron shots on a course where he won four green jackets after having no such issues coming into the week.

“That’s why it’s disappointing and a little bit frustrating,” Woods said. “But I haven’t been sharp with them. Given the fact that I was playing well coming in, my practice sessions have been good, I just have not executed the way that I have been.”

It’s not like Woods isn’t trying to solve his iron deficiencies.

“I know what the problem is,” he said. “I’m struggling trying to fix it on the fly and trusting it.”

Where Woods and his fans had dreamed of seeing him on chase a 15th major title, and first since the 2008 US Open, they will settle for him trying to shoot 67 or 68 and finish at par or better for the week.

“I wish this week would have been a little bit better,” Woods said. “Hopefully tomorrow I can shoot something, get me to even par or even in the red. That will be a good goal tomorrow and hopefully I can get it done.”

Once a maestro over Augusta National’s four par-5 holes, Woods is simply a mess now, 1-under on them for the week with two bogeys and a birdie Saturday.

“Played the par-5s awful,” Woods said. “I’m hitting so many good putts. They’re just not going in. But I’m not hitting it close enough. I’m not getting up there and not taking advantage of the par-5s and consequently a good round is even par.”

What he wants to see is improvement in his short game as a sign of progress to the long-term goal of competing in majors once again, his next chance coming in June’s US Open at Shinnecock.

“Hopefully I can hit my irons better. It has been scratchy this week. I just haven’t gotten it done,” Woods said. “And when I did miss I missed in the wrong spots. My swing’s just off with my irons just at the wrong time.”

Woods opened with back-to-back bogeys, his worst start of the week after finding bunkers at the first green and second fairway. He answered with 7-foot birdie putts at the par-3 sixth and par-5 eighth sandwiched around an 8-foot par-save putt at seven.

Woods avoided Rae’s Creek at the par-3 12th for the first time to make par.

“I just couldn’t do it three days in a row,” said Woods who raised his arms in celebration when his ball cleared the creek. “I gave it a little bit more gas and made sure that I was long if I did miss.

“I hit a good one in there. And missed the putt, but, hey, it’s a lot easier to play the hole from the green than it is dropping.”

His third shot at the par-5 15th went 60 feet over the green and he needed three more to make bogey, but answered with a 5-foot birdie putt at the par-3 16th.

Former world number one Woods, his blue shirt a reflection of his mood, will move from 103rd into the top 100 after starting his comeback outside the top 1,000 in the world rankings.

“I was pretty far out there, I’m going to guess like over 1,400 or something,” Woods said. “But to gradually kind of build my way back into it, I’ve had some success in this comeback and I’m getting there.”

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