SAN DIEGO -- Those looking for the vintage version of Tiger Woods caught a glimpse of it in one respect Saturday, as he turned a possibly ugly score into a respectable one.
Hitting just three fairways on the South course at Torrey Pines, Woods still managed a 2-under-par 70 in the third round of the Farmers Insurance Open, his first PGA Tour event in a year.
When asked how much his short game saved him from a big number, Woods quipped, "It would have been snowing on me ... it would have been snowing,'' making a reference to a snowman and a dreaded score in the 80s.
Woods completed 54 holes at 3-under 213 and is tied for 39th, 8 strokes back of tournament leader Alex Noren.
Turning poor rounds into good ones was among the strengths of Woods' game when he won 14 major championships and 79 PGA Tour titles.
That he has had some difficulty with his long game this week should probably not come as a surprise, but his short-game prowess is a revelation this early in his comeback.
Over his past 27 holes, Woods is 5 under despite having hit just four fairways.
"His short game is probably as good or better than I've ever seen it,'' said Brandt Snedeker, who played with Woods during the third round.
Woods referred to the round as "gross.''
He didn't hit a fairway until his eighth hole and added just two more along the way. He hit nine of 18 greens but twice hit poor approach shots with wedges. The three greens he hit on the back nine -- his first nine holes of the day -- all resulted in birdies. On his back nine, Woods made eight pars and a birdie: a 2-putt at the par-5 sixth.
"That's just fighting, fighting and grinding,'' Woods said. "I tried as hard as I possibly could out there. I didn't have much, but I fought and put up a score and made some putts.''
There is virtually no comparison between Torrey Pines and Albany in the Bahamas, where last month Woods shot three rounds in the 60s and tied for ninth in the limited-field unofficial tournament. Still, he drove the ball so much better there, and his misses there were not significant.
At Torrey Pines, Woods has struggled both ways, sometimes missing fairways by huge margins.
Woods did change driver models since that event, but he said that was not a factor in his struggles.
"It's not the driver. It's just my swing,'' Woods said. "My feels are different. I'm struggling with hitting certain shots. Some of my go-to shots aren't there. Some of my shots I like to hit under certain circumstances aren't there, either. The only thing I have is my short game and my heart that got me through today.''
Woods said last fall that something he would have to overcome is the mental hurdle of dealing with certain shots that, in the past, might have been painful to hit because of his back woes.
There were a couple of occasions when he tested his back on Saturday, making violent, contorting swings from the rough that had to make his surgeon cringe. Woods had his fourth back surgery in April and wasn't allowed to swing a club for six months.
"This is new, and that's one of the things that I tried to prepare for,'' Woods said. "I over-seeded one area at my house trying to grow the rough up and trying to hit some hard ones out there, see how it would feel, because I really hadn't played in rough since last year here. So [I've had] a good 12 months away from playing out of rough.
"I don't know what this body is going to do, but I think it did great today. I hit a lot of good shots, I controlled the face really well because I kept my speed up. That was one of the things that I didn't have last year: I couldn't control the face because I didn't have any speed.''
Snedeker, who has dealt with his own injury issues in the past year, saw plenty of positives in Woods' game.
"I've known Tiger a long time,'' Snedeker said. "He gets nervous the first five or six holes, and his swing is a little bit out of sequence, and it throws you off. The things I look for are, is he fighting, is he grinding, is he doing the short-game stuff?
"It's all there. It's not as far away as I thought it would be [after] not being able to play professional golf for, really, two years. I was very encouraged by it.''
His goal for the final round?
"See if I can shoot something in the 60s, but make it a little bit easier on myself than today,'' he said.