Woods remains a puzzle that can’t be solved

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AUGUSTA, GA. (AP) - The crowd followed him eagerly from hole to hole, still buzzing about what happened the previous afternoon.

Tiger Woods was back, and if anyone needed a reminder all they had to do was look at the giant white leaderboard on the first fairway and see the nine birdies he posted in the second round.

It was all coming together according to plan, after a year when nothing went according to plan. Sure, the youngsters behind him had the lead, but the faithful at Augusta National had seen this act before and they knew it was only a matter of time before order was restored in the game of golf once again.

That was the way they wanted it to happen.

That was the way it always used to happen.

Once again, it didn’t happen.

The enigma that is Tiger Woods was on full display on a hot, steamy day at the Masters, and it wasn’t for the faint of heart. This was supposed to be the day he finally put to rest questions about his swing and his mental state, but there were no answers to be had on the finely manicured grasses of Augusta National.

Those who believe Woods is on the verge of being his old self will point to his brilliant shots and the putts that might have been. Those who believe Woods will never be the same will replay video of him blading a chip and missing two putts within four feet, golfing transgressions that the old Tiger would never have committed.

He’s a puzzle who refuses to be solved, headed back to greatness one moment before returning to mediocrity the next. He didn’t need a 64 in the third round to contend on Sunday, but the 74 he shot pretty much ensures he won’t.

Seven shots back, with a ton of players between him and leader Rory McIlroy, he’s as done as some of the patrons who baked for hours in the Georgia sun to catch a glimpse of him. There will be no fifth green jacket on Sunday, even if Woods is the last one to figure that out.

Asked if he could still win the Masters, Woods gave a one word answer: “Absolutely.”

Ask almost anyone who watched him play a maddeningly inconsistent round Saturday and they might sum up his chances in two words: “No way.”

Actually, the guy who watched him closer than most in the third round was more charitable. Playing partner K.J. Choi said Woods is hitting good shots and has a nice rhythm to his swing.

“He’s better than where he was last year,” Choi said.

That’s not saying a lot because Woods was miserable most of last year after coming back from his self-imposed exile to struggle with a swing change. Things haven’t been a whole lot better this year, though Woods was hopeful he might find some magic on a golf course he knows intimately with a swing that seems to be coming around.

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