Tiger Woods again mixed the good with the bad on his PGA Tour return as he toiled to a two-over-par 72 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Saturday in only his third tournament round in three months.
Shaking his head in disgust with each missed putt or wayward tee shot, the former world number one battled to a one-over total of 211 as most of his rivals gorged themselves on birdies at Firestone Country Club.
Woods, whose previous tour event was the Players Championship in May, recorded four bogeys and two birdies to end the third round 13 strokes off the lead, a day of frustration summed up by a missed three-foot par putt at the last.
"I didn't putt well again today," the 35-year-old American told reporters after totaling 33 putts in bright morning sunshine on Firestone's heavily tree-lined South Course.
"I had two horseshoes, three-putted 18 and then made a bogey with a sand wedge on 16. That's four shots right there I just threw away."
As ever, though, Woods preferred to dwell on all the positives.
"The iron game was back," he said. "I started getting a feel in my hands and just about every iron shot was on my number, which was great.
"Today I didn't hit the ball well starting off but I fixed it, put it together again and really hit it good coming home.
"I started hitting the ball the right flight, the right traj (trajectory). Every tee shot was flush and everything was back to where it was at the beginning of the week."
Woods is a seven-times champion at Firestone but he started the week under closer scrutiny than usual after missing the last two majors while sidelined by leg injuries.
An opening 68 gave him reason to smile but he struggled with his distance control on Friday on the way to a second-round 71.
That left him seven strokes off the lead at the tournament's halfway point in a tie for 36th in an elite field of 76 and he failed to gain any momentum Saturday as he missed four fairways out of 14.
"I'm still struggling a little bit with my set-up and alignments off of tee shots because I used to curve the ball a lot more," said Woods, whose world ranking has slipped to 28th.
"I don't curve the ball as much any more and it's kind of hard to trust when I'm out there in tournament play. I've just got to get more committed to that."
Woods made a poor start to the third round with a bogey at the par-four first after finding a fairway bunker off the tee and the left rough with his second shot.
He missed a birdie chance from 10 feet at the par-three fifth and then struck a spectator with another wayward drive at the sixth before giving the man a signed golf glove.
From the right rough, the 14-times major champion conjured a stunning approach to seven foot but he horseshoed out with the birdie putt and had to settle for a regulation par.
He bogeyed the par-four eighth after missing the fairway to the right and having to chop out with his second shot before sinking a 20-footer to birdie the ninth and reach the turn level for the tournament.
Woods had missed every fairway on the front nine and as he walked down the 10th after driving into the left rough, the number of reporters following him had dropped to a mere handful.
He picked up his second shot of the day at the par-three 15th where he rolled in a six-footer but he immediately gave that back at the par-five 16th with a surprising bogey.
After deciding to lay up in two on the 667-yard hole, he overshot the green with a wedge from 70 yards and failed to get up and down from the back bunker to save par.
Worse was to follow at the last where he three-putted from long range, his head slumping forward after he missed the three-footer for par.
Asked about his goals for Sunday's final round, Woods replied: "I've just got to put together a good round and let it build. That's something I haven't done yet.
"I've only played three rounds. Unfortunately, I'm not there battling with a chance to win, but I can still post a good round tomorrow."