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As Tiger Woods Falls Out of Contention on the Masters, the Highlight Shifts

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Saturday is known as moving day on the Masters Tournament because that’s when top-performing golfers attempt to leapfrog up the leaderboard to position themselves for a championship charge in Sunday’s final round.

The axiom held true for Cameron Smith of Australia, whose four-under-par 68 on Saturday moved him to inside three shots of the third-round leader, Scottie Scheffler, who shot a determined and regular one-under-par 71.

But Saturday was also something else: a day of shifting spotlights.

Since Tiger Woods arrived on the Augusta National practice range last weekend, he has dominated all conversation concerning the 2022 tournament and attracted huge galleries of spectators who followed him from hole to hole as if no other golfer in the sphere mattered.

But Saturday afternoon, as Woods limped and labored through 18 holes and fell 16 shots behind Scheffler, the main target of this yr’s Masters modified.

Woods, who shot a 78 on a day when temperatures dipped into the 40s, was removed from abandoned on the golf course. But a certain sense of reality set in in addition to he fell to seven over par for the tournament and dropped right into a tie for forty first place.

Woods’s return to competitive golf after a near-fatal automotive crash roughly 14 months ago has been inspirational and heartening and a startling success by any measure. But because the third round got here to a detailed, it was evident that Woods’s comeback this week would have its limits. From the beginning of his third round, Woods’s surgically repaired back looked stiff, and traversing Augusta National’s many hillocks and mounts seemed especially painstaking on his rebuilt right leg and ankle.

Most shocking, his biggest strength — his putting stroke, which has been the envy of his peers for 1 / 4 century — deserted him. Woods three-putted his final three holes and had a four-putt on one other hole.

After Woods had left the 18th hole on Saturday and moved away from public view, his gait worsened noticeably. He hobbled onto a foot-high platform to deal with reporters and answered an issue concerning the health of his back, which has been operated on five times.

“It’s not as limber and as loose because it normally is, that’s needless to say,” he said.

But Woods, 46, knows that he’s being watched closely. While he has not all the time desired to live his life within the highlight as a task model, he just isn’t shying away from that turn this week. Asked what he hoped to point out sports fans at this yr’s Masters, he replied: “Never quit. All the time chase after your dreams. And I fight each and every single day. Each and every single day is a challenge. Each and every single day presents its own different challenges for all of us. I get up and begin the fight all another time.”

Woods’s troubles on Saturday began after he had played reasonably well during his first 4 holes, which resulted in two pars, a bogey and a birdie. But on the fifth hole, he grimaced conspicuously after hitting a middle iron shot from 192 yards. His ball settled 65 feet from the opening, a distance Woods struggled to barter in a surprising 4 putts, including a 3rd putt from 4 feet away that made nearly a complete revolution around the opening before spinning out. There was one other three-putt on the ninth hole, which was arrange by a poor approach shot that left Woods’s ball 60 feet uphill from the opening.

Woods had recovered with back-to-back birdies on the twelfth and thirteenth holes and two routine pars on the succeeding holes. But three more off-target approach shots led to the 2 bogeys and a double bogey on his three closing holes — and nine more putts.

“It’s similar to I hit a thousand putts on the market on the greens today,” said Woods, who spent a part of his post-round time grinning sardonically at his misfortunes. “I used to be trying various things, trying to seek out it, attempting to get something. And nothing appeared to work.”

Scheffler played his opening nine holes as if he planned to run away with the tournament by sundown Saturday. He birdied the second, third, sixth and eighth holes, which allowed him to take care of the five-stroke lead he had held after Friday’s second round. Scheffler, the world’s top-ranked male player, needed those early heroics to remain well ahead of Charl Schwartzel, who played his first 10 holes in thee under par to surge into second.

But Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion, fizzled with 4 back-nine bogeys. Smith, nevertheless, continued the sterling play he had exhibited in winning last month’s Players Championship when he closed with birdies on each back-nine par-5s.

Scheffler avoided an enormous number on his closing hole Saturday after lacing his tee shot deep into the woods alongside the green. Forced to take a drop and a one-stroke penalty, Scheffler then knocked a protracted iron shot up the steep hill of the 18th hole that landed on the green but trundled just over it. Scheffler successfully executed a fragile chip back down the hill and left a three-foot putt for bogey, which he sank.

Woods has been impressed with Scheffler, who has won thrice this yr on the PGA Tour.

“All of us wish we had that two-, three-month window once we get hot — and hopefully majors fall somewhere along in that window,” Woods said. “We care for it in those windows. Scottie appears to be in that window straight away.”

Sungjae Im was in third place at 4 under par for the tournament and five strokes behind Scheffler. Shane Lowry was next at two under par after a third-round 73.

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