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Tiger Woods' struggles continue

AKRON, Ohio -- Asked after his round Saturday at Firestone Country Club which holes he was the most pleased about through three rounds of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger Woods went the humorous route.

"The 19th," he quipped.

He smiled, but for Woods it was another day of frustration at a place where he has so often dominated.

Following the same formula as two weeks ago at the Open Championship, Woods has seen his rounds get worse, shooting 2-over-par 72 on Saturday to drop into a tie for 36th place, 15 shots out of the lead.

Sergio Garcia wound up with a 3-under 67 on Saturday and holds a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy through three rounds.

"If I could just hit the ball a little better," Woods lamented. "I hit it pretty decent today, which was nice, I just didn't (putt) well at all again. I couldn't get comfortable with my setup and it just kind of worked out that way."

Woods again struggled off the tee, hitting just six fairways. And after two relatively solid rounds with his iron play, he hit just seven of 18 greens in regulation. Given that, it is somewhat remarkable he was just 2 over par for his round.

He finished 54 holes at 211, 1 over par. When he won here last year, he played 72 holes in 15 under par. Woods made one birdie, one bogey and a double bogey. That's 15 pars, and he had to get it up and down 13 times.

Woods took some encouragement out of finding a couple of fairways late in his round with the driver.

"I actually smoked it coming home, which is nice," Woods said. "I figured something out there. Unfortunately, too little, too late. But if I continue doing what I was doing coming in today, I'll be just fine."

Woods is trying to find the positives in what has otherwise been a frustrating comeback from March 31 back surgery. He has now played nine competitive rounds, with just two under par.

On Saturday, he made just one birdie on a relatively benign day for scoring, with soft conditions. If his back is giving him any problems, Woods is not using it as an excuse.

"No, everything's the same," he said. "I just need more reps. Still continue to stay at it because I'm actually getting better the more rounds I'm playing. I'm actually getting my feel back.

"Again, I'm hitting more shots pin-high right on the numbers. I just need to convert. If I putt normal the last two days, I shoot 2, 3 under par, no problem."

The problem confronting Woods now is his long-shot status to make the FedEx Cup playoffs, which begin in three weeks. Unless he wins the PGA Championship next week or decides to add the Wyndham Championship and performs well the following week, Woods will not qualify for the second time in four years.

And there is the issue of his status for the Ryder Cup at the end of September. While that competition is still eight weeks away, if Woods doesn't play well next week, it presents a dilemma for U.S. captain Tom Watson -- does he pick a player who goes possibly a month without competing?

Woods has won eight times at Firestone and once at Valhalla, the venue for the PGA Championship. That course outside Louisville, Ky., is the site of one of his more memorable victories, a playoff win over Bob May in 2000 that gave him three straight major championships -- a first since Ben Hogan in 1953. Woods has not been there since.