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Tiger Woods Wows the Crowd With a Fast Start Before a Quiet Finish

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Tiger Woods after a shot on the 11th fairway during the third round at the Hero World Challenge in Nassau, the Bahamas.

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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

NASSAU, the Bahamas — On his fifth hole Saturday at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods holed a bunker shot for his fourth birdie of the day. It had taken him only 41 holes in his first competitive start in 15 months to reach double figures under par. When Woods’s ball tracked toward the hole and trickled in, the roar from his gallery was so loud, it might have scared off the fish on Lyford Cay, four miles away on the western tip of New Providence Island.

After 466 days away from golf, Woods was 10 under par and in contention at the tournament he hosts. With a birdie at the par-5 11th, Woods moved to 11 under, to the delirium of the crowd following him. But over the last seven holes, the tide of sound would recede as Woods wobbled home for a two-under 70 and a 54-hole total of eight under.

He was 11 strokes behind the leader, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who posted a 65 and was at 19 under.

“Only Tiger could take a year and a half off and put up the numbers that he’s putting up this week,” Matsuyama said. “I don’t care how many strokes I’m leading over him, I still worry about him, fear him.”

Woods, who had a bogey-free 65 in the second round, made his first bogey in 24 holes when he three-putted from 40 feet on the par-5 sixth. If he had a qualm about his game, it was with his play on the greens.

“I just hit some bad putts,” Woods said.

But his overall performance was solid given how rusty he was after the longest layoff of his 21-year pro career. Of all the signs of progress, perhaps the most promising was that Woods was upset despite shooting below par.

“If you think about it, I’ve gotten off to some really good starts the first three days,” said Woods, who has played the front nine in a cumulative 10 under. “Generally, when I come back from layoffs, that’s the most concerning part of the game is getting off to a halfway decent start. I’ve been into the round early, built a significant amount of positive shots and gone under par early.

“Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to keep it going except for yesterday.”

In a 17-man field that includes 12 of the top 25 players in the world, Woods was in 10th place. Did that exceed his expectations coming into the event?

“I didn’t really have much, because I didn’t know,” Woods said. “I didn’t know what I was going to feel like after each round.”

After three rounds, his takeaway was this: “I’m just not quite there. But it’s coming.”

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