Tiger Woods recovery on plan on the golf course

AUGUSTA, Georgia (AP): Tigers Woods wasn't being slapped with divorce papers, no mistresses or porn stars were stalking him, but his mother was worried.

During the third round, Woods seemed on the verge of throwing away any chance he had to win the Masters. And at this moment that seemed like the most critical part of Tiger Woods' recovery so far.

"Bogey?" Mrs. Woods yelled out from her vantage point off the seventh fairway. "Come on now, stop that."

Woods was worried himself. He couldn't figure out the speed of the greens, some of his shots were going sideways, and two early birdies seemed like a distant memory.

And that thing he promised about controlling himself on the golf course? One bad swing on the par-3 sixth took care of that.

"Tiger, you suck," Woods muttered, before adding a curse for good measure. All caught by TV microphones, of course, for the listening pleasure of millions watching an afternoon of Masters drama play out on a gorgeous Saturday.

Informed that he cursed, Woods said, "Did I? If I did, then I'm sorry."

Being Tiger Woods once meant never having to say you're sorry. So count that in Woods' favor, even if weeks in therapy haven't changed everything about the world's greatest golfer.

Indeed, after a wild round left him still within striking distance on Sunday, it was clear one vital thing was still the same _ Woods still has the resolve that made him so feared for so many years.

"That's fine. That's never a problem," Woods said, referring to his mental toughness before repeating himself for emphasis. "That's not a problem."

No, the problem was the swing that had served Woods so well in the first two days of his comeback from a scandal. The putter disappeared for long stretches, too, in an erratic round that seemed to confound Woods as much as it did his mother.

Kultida Woods couldn't do anything about it, though she offered a running commentary to Nike chairman Phil Knight as they followed her son around the course, and following them was a uniformed deputy sheriff.

After Woods hit his first putt up a big hill and well past the hole on No. 6, she explained to Knight that the putt was just too tough.

"If you do not putt it hard it will come down," she said. "It's a hard putt. A hard putt."

Missing from the entourage was Woods' wife, Elin, but that was hardly a surprise. How things stand between Woods and his wife can only be guessed at.

One thing that's not hard to guess is what this Masters means to Woods. Returning to the place he feels most comfortable was a big step in his comeback from public ridicule, and getting into contention after two rounds was an even bigger step.

Saturday wasn't nearly as easy, despite two birdies on the first three holes that moved Woods to within one shot of the lead.

He was seven shots back and heading in the wrong direction when he plunked it in the sand on the par-3 12th. But he got up-and-down for par, then went birdie-birdie-birdie before following a bogey on No. 17 with a birdie on the final hole.

The final tally was seven birdies and five bogeys, but it could have been a lot worse. It left him tied for third, four strokes off the lead, and with a smile on his face.

"I fought as hard as I possibly could to get myself back in the ballgame," Woods said. "At one point I was seven back and to fight back there and to get it where I'm only four back right now was a pretty big accomplishment."

Woods in red on Sunday in the next-to-last group at the Masters is compelling enough even in normal times. And if the last five months have proved anything, these are not normal times.

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