WINDERMERE, Florida (REUTERS) - Tiger Woods battled through nausea, fever and vomiting to fire a 3-under par 69 Saturday at the Hero World Challenge, his first tournament after a four-month injury layoff.
The former world number one birdied the last three holes to stand on level par 216 for 54 holes at Isleworth but remained last in the 18-player event.
“It wasn’t easy. I fought hard,” Woods said in a hoarse whisper. “Spent all I had.” Woods, who had not played competitively since the PGA Championship in August because of a back injury, vomited from the first hole onward.
“I’ve been throwing up for hours,” Woods said, noting he was ill but not in pain and never considered quitting.
“I wasn’t doing too good at the beginning but I thought I could hang in there,” Woods said. “The fever just broke. As the round went on I was feeling better.” Woods, who opened with a 77 Thursday, fired a 70 Friday with a fever but was worse off Saturday.
“I didn’t have nausea and vomiting before,” Woods said. “I just didn’t have the explosiveness. I was pretty slow.”
Woods, a 14-time major winner chasing the career record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, has only been hitting balls for a month after revamping his swing by returning to a style from younger days.
But Woods turns 39 later this month and no player has won four majors beyond that birthday.
Leader Jordan Spieth was 15 shots ahead of Woods with the back nine of the third round yet to play.
“Not bad. Only 15 back,” Woods said with a smile.
Woods has been solid and accurate off the tee the past two days but his short game has been awful and putting has been spotty, a sign fans might have to wait well into 2015 before he reaches competitive form.
His only hint about next year’s schedule was that it would be a “probably slightly different” run-up to the Masters in April.
On the first hole, Woods doubled over and vomited after hitting his approach 15 feet from the cup, but followed by making the birdie putt. He battled dry heaves but made a great chip to salvage par at the par-3 second.
“I like to compete,” Woods said. “If I can go, I can go. I’ll give everything I have.” At the sixth, Woods botched a chip and took a bogey but answered at the par-5 seventh by making an eight-foot birdie putt.
Woods sank a 12-foot birdie putt at the 12th but chunked his seventh chip of the week at the par-5 13th, then came up short of a greenside ridge with another chip on his way to a bogey.
At 15, he made a downhill putt from off the green rather than chip but rolled the ball 12 feet past the hole and made bogey, falling back to level par for the day.
He answered with a 12-foot birdie putt at 16 and sank four-foot birdie putts at 17 and 18 for his strongest three-hole run since the British Open last July.
This is the second injury comeback Woods has made this year at an event funding his charity foundation, the other at June’s PGA National despite having driven a ball only one week before the opening round. That served as his only British Open tuneup.