AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Tiger Woods was toast. The Masters was enjoying one of those magical days when all kinds of wonderful stuff happens and he was playing like a guy who delivers the pimiento cheese sandwiches instead of the No. 1 player in the world.
At least one scribe was gathering thoughts for a column declaring Woods' title aspirations in his return to the game done. Not only that, figured the scribe, the long layoff and the pressure Tiger's been under had finally taken their toll.
Sure looked like it. It got so bad for awhile out there, Tiger's effort to clean up his language took a couple of hard hits, burning a few ears. He may need to get a little rehab on that, too. Not to treat it lightly, but golf will do that to you if that's your inclination and you're throwing away the Masters.
It was a perfect day for golf, in a perfect setting, but bogeys tend to obscure those things. Woods had bogeyed the fourth and when he hit a mangy-looking iron on the par three sixth, he turned the air blue. His mood wasn't improved by the fact that he three-putted.
On the next hole, he three-putted from the fringe to fall five strokes off the pace. Another three-putt on the tenth left him seven strokes behind. This was Tiger Woods, folks, putting like a sports writer.
Meanwhile, things were getting ready to explode around him. Phil Mickelson was preparing to fire back-to-back eagles at the 13th and 14th. The roar from the first rocked the countryside just as Woods was preparing to hit his tee shot on the 12th, a watery par three where the ghosts of countless dreams live. His shot plunked into a bunker.
To this point, Tiger Woods was a tortured soul who was playing a supporting role in an outstanding presentation.
"It was running away from me," he said later.
We should know not to count Woods out until he's lying on the canvas and the ref has finished his count. Which is, basically, never.
He parred the 12th but was still six off the lead. No worries. He birdied Nos. 13, 14 and 15, bogeyed No. 17 from the wrong fairway and then birdied the final hole for a two-under-par 70 and a piece of third place heading into today's closing round.
"It was a tough day," he said.
Those roars that were exploding all over the course in the late going, when Phil Mickelson was making back-to-back eagles and people were chipping in and knocking down flagsticks and generally making it a grand day of golf, how'd you feel about that?
"It's just Saturday," he said. "If I have a good round tomorrow"
He will. You know he will. He's not like us.