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Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 7th hole.
Tiger Woods hits his tee shot on the 7th hole. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Woods can't translate a fast start into a big finish

Tiger Woods birdied three of his first five holes Saturday, but couldn’t go any lower on a frustrating day when the scoring was as easy as it gets at Whistling Straits. Barring a miracle, his major drought will reach 10 in a row.

HAVEN, Wis. (AP) -- Tiger Woods tried to drive the 373-yard 14th hole at Whistling Straits, one last attempt to get something going in the PGA Championship. Instead, his tee shot landed in a small bed of gravel along a dirt path winding through sand bunkers and grassy knolls.

His position was all too familiar in a major championship.

Woods was desperate to make birdies and catch up to the leaders, but he was running out of holes. And it was only Saturday.

"It's getting frustrating that I was not able to put myself up there," Woods said after a feeble 69 in the third round, which was shaping up as the easiest day of scoring at Whistling Straits. "I just put myself too far back. The past few majors, that's what ends up happening."

As he walked toward the 15th green, Woods looked to the left at a large leaderboard that didn't include his name. He was at 3-under 213. The leaders were at 9-under, still an hour away from even showing up at the course to eat lunch.

Barring a miracle, Woods will finish his 10th straight major without a trophy since winning the U.S. Open in 2002, matching the longest drought of his career.

"I'm going to need some help," Woods said, hopeful the leaders would not run away. "That hurricane in Florida, I need it to make a turn to the north and get up here quick."

With accessible pins and virtually no wind on a spectacular day off Lake Michigan, Woods was primed to shoot a low enough score to at least give him hope on Sunday.

But he couldn't recover from another click of the camera, which killed his momentum. And when he needed to make birdies at the start of the back nine, they stayed out of the cup.

Woods birdied three of his first five holes with putts inside 8 feet, and walked with purpose to each tee box as thousands of fans perched on the sand dunes rallied him on.

Standing over his tee shot on the par-3 seventh, he settled in over his ball when he heard the click from a news photographer behind the tee box. Woods turned and glared at him, then dropped the club as soon as he made contact.

"Good (expletive) swing," he growled. "Great focus."

The ball caromed off the mound and shot across the green into the rough. He flopped a pitch over the ridge to 8 feet and pulled the putt, a bogey he could simply could not afford to make.

His caddie, Steve Williams, looked like he wanted to throw the camera and the photographer into the lake, but instead barked at him as the players left the tee.

"It's like hitting the gas before the light changes," Williams said. "There's no excuse for that."

Woods said the camera incident was a key turning point in his round, and he probably was right. "I never could get comfortable over that shot," he said.

It was the third time a camera went off while he was over his ball this week -- on the 11th hole on Thursday, and on the fifth hole Friday -- and he played them in 4-over.

Compounding matters at the seventh was that he played with Niclas Fasth, a Swede who hardly lives up to his name. They were put on the clock after six holes, and Woods said he couldn't waste any time getting locked in over his tee shot.

Still, he had only himself to blame for a missed 12-foot putt on the eight, and a wedge on the 10th that he got only to within 20 feet for another wasted birdie chance.

He hit another bold flop shot over the bunker to within 6 feet for birdie on the 11th to get back to 4-under, still hoping to finish strong and get back in the game.

"I just didn't keep it going," he said.

It all unraveled starting on the 12th.

His tee shot was a yard too long and trickled down a ridge onto the fringe. Woods ran his 35-foot birdie attempt some 5 feet by, and pulled the par putt to drop another shot. He missed from 15 feet on the 13th. After a drop from the gravel bed on the 14th, he missed a 12-foot birdie.

By the time he got to the 15th, he was reduced to backhanding his putts in for par, as if he was playing a round of golf that didn't really matter.

Told the wind was supposed to blow hard out of the south Sunday, Woods said, "Good."

"That's the kind of wind I'm going to have to have in order to get back into this tournament," he said. "As I said, we need some help from the leaders not to shoot 5- or 6-under par."

Even that might not be enough.

Copyright (c)2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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