- Bob Harig, Senior Golf Writer
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SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- A promising start that included a brief jump onto the leaderboard stalled over the closing holes for Tiger Woods on Saturday, who shot a 3-under 68 during the third round of the Frys.com Open.
Woods had moved into a tie for 10th and was just three strokes off the lead when he birdied the second hole -- his 11th hole of the day -- to get to 5 under for the tournament and three back of the leaders.
But then he left a ball in a bunker at the par-3 third, and had more trouble at the par-3 seventh -- where his tee shot went over the green and into heavy brush. Those two bogeys dropped him off the pace, although he did birdie the par-5 ninth and shot consecutive rounds in the 60s.
When he finished, he was six strokes behind then-leader Ernie Els, who was still on the course.
By the time Saturday's action was over, Woods was tied for 38th and nine shots behind Briny Baird. Baird, seeking his first PGA Tour victory in 12 years on tour, shot a 3-under 68 on Saturday for a two-stroke lead over Els and Paul Casey.
"I was really close to putting it together," Woods said, noting that he let good birdie chances at the 17th and 18th holes slip by before birdies on one and two. "It's getting better. It's getting better. I'm improving day by day, which is good. Obviously tomorrow I need to improve a lot and make the putts and post a really low one tomorrow."
Woods is playing this Fall Series event at CordeValle Golf Club for the first time. It is his first tournament since the PGA Championship and just his 10th this year due to lingering knee and Achilles injuries suffered at the Masters.
The 14-time major champion who posted the last of his 71 PGA Tour titles two years ago has dropped to 51st in the world from No. 2 at the beginning of the year.
His round was similar to Friday's 68 in that he hit just six of 14 fairways but hit 14 of 18 greens. He took 28 putts.
"I would like to just keep building on it," he said. " I'm definitely doing that. As I said, I was very close to really putting it together on the front nine and birdie 17 and 18 and all of a sudden, I'm 5 under. I wasn't that far away from really turning it to the back nine and taking it deep."
After Sunday's final round, Woods is not expected to play again until next month's Australian Open, followed a week later by the Presidents Cup.
Baird is just happy to be playing with a lead.
It was only the third time that Baird, who was at 13-under 200, has been atop the leaderboard going into the final round on the PGA Tour, and the first time since he was tied after 54 holes at Disney seven years ago. He has never won in 357 previous attempts over 12 seasons, which was pointed out to him not long after he finished his round.
So how does he approach this opportunity?
"Whatever I thought about the other times, throw that out the window," Baird said. "At Disney, I just played so-so. Unless you have an eight-shot lead, so-so is not going to cut it. If I can feel tomorrow like I did today ... of course, if I knew how to do that, I'd be something."
Els, one of the men chasing Baird, only added this Fall Series event to work on his game, work out of this slump, and try to get more comfortable with the belly putter. It helps, too, that Hasso Plattner owns CordeValle. Plattner also is a founder of SAP, one of Els' primary corporate sponsors.
"Sometimes you've got to listen to the boss," Els said, laughing. "He's a good friend. It's a good golf course. I'm glad I'm here."
Bob Harig is a golf writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.