Grim-faced Woods plunges new Tour depths at Firestone

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Tiger Woods made another quick exit from the Firestone layout at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Saturday after producing the worst 54-hole total of his PGA Tour career relative to par.

The American, a shadow of his former dominant self this week, struggled to a five-over-par 75 in the third round on an ideal day for low scoring to leave his world number one ranking in peril.

Woods, who has triumphed seven times in 11 previous appearances at Firestone Country Club, bogeyed the last two holes for an 11-over total of 221 in bright sunshine to lie third-last in the 80-strong field.

It was his worst position after 54 holes on the U.S. circuit since he turned professional in late 1996 and eclipsed his previous worst aggregate after three rounds -- 10-over totals recorded at the 1996 and 1998 Tour Championship.

"No, talk to the leaders," a grim-faced Woods told a PGA Tour official after being asked if he was prepared to speak to reporters after signing his card.

He did, however, say a few words to the official about his round which included two birdies, five bogeys and a double-bogey at the par-four eighth.

"I drove it terrible, hit my irons terrible, didn't putt well and it added up to a lot," the 34-year-old said after totaling 26 putts and finding seven of 14 fairways, surprisingly his best returns of a dismal week.


Asked if he could take any positives out of his Firestone performance with the final major of the year taking place in Wisconsin next week, Woods replied: "No, not right now."

The final hole on Saturday epitomized Woods's struggles. After hitting a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway, he pushed his approach to the right, his ball clipping tree branches before ending in the first cut of rough.

He dropped his club to the ground in disgust before taking a further two shots to reach the green. Woods then holed a six-footer for a bogey five and doffed his cap to acknowledge polite applause from the crowd.

The American's top ranking, which he has held for 269 consecutive weeks, is now under severe threat with compatriot Phil Mickelson well positioned to replace him at the end of this week.

Left-hander Mickelson, tied for second going into the third round of the Bridgestone Invitational, would take over with a top-four finish if Woods places outside the top 44.

"If Phil plays the way he's supposed to this weekend, then he'll be No. 1," said Woods, who has previously lost the top spot to fellow American David Duval in 1999 and Fijian Vijay Singh in 2004.

(Editing by Dave Thompson)