Golf: Swing struggles return as Tiger stumbles, joint leader Merritt shoots record 61

Tiger Woods watches his drive from the tee on the 12th hole in the third round of the Quicken Loans National golf tournament at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.
Tiger Woods watches his drive from the tee on the 12th hole in the third round of the Quicken Loans National golf tournament at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.PHOTO: USA TODAY SPORTS

GAINESVILLE, United States (AFP) - Golf's former world No. 1 Tiger Woods, who raised hopes of ending a two-year win drought with a solid start at the PGA Quicken Loans National, stumbled from contention on Saturday with a three-over par 74.

A day after a shooting a 66, his lowest round of the year in relation to par, he was back to the erratic play that has dominated his past two seasons, campaigns marked by back surgery, swing changes and the worst rounds of his career.

"Basically it was a fight all day," Woods said. "It felt like that hook was coming in and fought through it the best I could. I was hitting the ball left on the range warming up. Couldn't quite get comfortable."

A closing bogey left the 14-time Major champion on five-under 208 after 54 holes. He was tied for 42nd and nine shots adrift of the lead shared by fellow Americans Troy Merritt, fired a tournament record 10-under par 61 and Kevin Chappell.

Woods had three bogeys, two birdies and a double bogey.

The tournament host, who has slumped to 266th in world rankings, has 79 career PGA titles, three shy of Sam Snead's all-time record. But he has not won a title since the 2013 World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational and has not won a Major since the 2008 US Open.

Woods missed the first six fairways off the tee but rescued par every time and finally found a fairway at the par-five eighth.

"I was waiting for the one moment, the one shot. I couldn't find it," he said. "I grinded my butt off to be even par through seven, just hang in there the best I possibly could and I finally hit it on eight right in the middle of the fairway."

But Woods went over the green and onto a wood-chip cart path, then blasted back into the greenside rough and made bogey.

"I've been through rounds like this before. I figured I could hang in there and I did. At eight I could turn it around... I went the exact opposite way."

At the par-three 11th, he went into the wilderness to the right, took a drop on the side of the elevated green and took double bogey, then missed the green with his second shot and took bogey at 13.

Woods was the only player in the field without a birdie until he sank a 12-foot birdie putt at the par-four 15th. He followed with a seven-foot birdie putt at the par-three 16th. But at No. 18, he found the left rough off the tee and the right rough with his next two shots on the way to a bogey.

"It's the best I ever felt with the putter. But I could never get the ball on the green fast enough," Woods said.

"I was very patient. I fought hard. I made some sweet up and downs. Hit some really good shots. Thank God my short game is back. Now I just need to get the ball striking in there a little bit better and consistent."