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Tiger falls behind as Charley Hoffman leads Hero World Challenge

Charley Hoffman handles windy conditions well and shoots 2-under 70 for a five-shot lead in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

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Charley Hoffman handles windy conditions well and shoots 2-under 70 for a five-shot lead in the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods fell behind early and never recovered. Charley Hoffman pulled away late and made himself hard to beat.

Hoffman handled the blustery conditions in the Hero World Challenge on Saturday for 2-under 70, one of only five rounds under par, and built a five-shot lead at 14-under 202 going into the final round at Albany Golf Club.

Woods went 11 consecutive holes without hitting a green in regulation. He went 14 holes until making his first birdie. He had to settle for 75, leaving him 10 shots out of the lead and finding consolation in the way he feels and the way he fought to keep his round from getting worse.

"It's nice to be part of the fight again," Woods said. "Fighting against the golf course, fighting against the guys, that's fun. I just haven't done it a whole lot in the last few years."

The strong wind took the air out of any hopes that Woods, playing for the first time in 10 months after a fourth back surgery, might even get into contention in his celebrated return to competition. He opened with rounds of 69-68. They were enough for his odds of winning the Masters to plunge to 15-1, the same as Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm. And then a warm afternoon brought a cold dash of reality.

Woods opened with four bogeys in seven holes. He played four par 5s without having a birdie putt on any of them. And when he finally made a birdie, Woods removed his cap to acknowledge the crowd and held up a finger to indicate his first birdie.

"It's ridiculous it took me 14 holes to make a birdie," Woods said. "At that time, I'd already played four par 5s and nothing happened. Just one of those days. Anything I did right ended up in a bad spot, and then everything I did wrong, it was really bad."

It was tough on everyone.

No one in the 18-man field broke 70.

Hoffman, also the second-round leader, had a few nervous moments but paid for it only once. He sent his tee shot far right into the bushes on a sand dune right of the 10th fairway. He took a penalty drop onto a sandy path and wound up with a double bogey that brought a half-dozen players back into the mix.

But not for long.

Hoffman closed with three birdies over his last five holes, including the 18th for the second straight day.

"I got lucky on some tee balls that didn't find the bushes and stayed in the sandy areas, and I was able to sort of scrap it around," Hoffman said. "I'm going to have to handle my nerves a little better than I did (Saturday)."

Justin Rose, an Albany resident, had 71 and joined 2017 British Open champion Jordan Spieth (72) at 9-under 207.

Woods began his round by hugging his 10-year-old daughter, Sam, and 8-year-old son, Charlie, who flew in from Florida. Even after a 75, he still looked at the big picture. He was hitting the ball well, his back felt strong and he at least felt as though he could contend.

"I think overall, I'm very happy with what's going on this week," Woods said. "There were a lot of questions that I had — I'm sure you guys have had — and I feel like I've come out on a good side."

Tiger falls behind as Charley Hoffman leads Hero World Challenge 12/02/17 [Last modified: Saturday, December 2, 2017 8:18pm]
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