SAN MARTIN, California (Reuters) - Tiger Woods finally worked his way into the upper reaches of the Frys.com Open leaderboard in Saturday's third round, though he failed to capitalize on good momentum after the turn.
The former world number one briefly got to within three strokes of the lead after making four birdies in his first 11 holes before problems on two par-threes over his closing stretch resulted in a three-under 68.
Playing in his first PGA Tour event in almost two months, Woods has been largely happy with his day-to-day progress but a four-under total of 203 was not good enough to keep him in contention after another perfect day for scoring at a sun-splashed CordeValle Golf Club.
"The golf course could have been had today, if you drive the ball decent and hit some wedges in there," Woods told reporters after mixing five birdies with two bogeys.
"A couple of the par-fives are reachable and then it's obviously drivable there at 17 (the 358-yard par-four). Guys can take it deep out there.
"It's getting better," he said of his own form. "I'm improving day by day. Obviously tomorrow I need to improve a lot, make the putts and post a really low one."
Woods came into this week under heavy scrutiny but with lofty expectations after finally putting behind him lingering leg injuries and practising without limitations.
Having struggled for form and fitness for most of the year while working on the fourth swing change of his professional career, he said the would be satisfied with nothing less than victory at CordeValle.
However, he struggled badly with his putting on rain-softened greens as he opened with a two-over 73 before inching his way back up the leaderboard with successive 68s.
"I would like to just keep building on it," said Woods, whose world ranking has slipped to 51st since his spectacular downfall at the end of 2009 amid allegations of serial philandering.
"I was very close to really putting it together on the front nine -- birdie 17 and 18, and all of a sudden, I'm five under."
However he failed to birdie the drivable 17th and missed an eight-footer for birdie on 18 to remain at three under overall going into his final nine holes.
"I wasn't that far away from really turning it to the back nine and taking it deep. With these pin locations, a 62 or 63 tomorrow is not out of the realm."
The biggest problem for Woods, who has not triumphed anywhere since the 2009 Australian Masters, has been getting back into the groove of tournament play in only his ninth PGA Tour start of the year.
"I'm just playing to get competitive," said the 35-year-old, who bogeyed the par-three third after getting a plugged lie in a greenside bunker and the par-three seventh where he pulled his tee shot well left into tall grass.
"It's about going out there and playing. The last two days I have really putted well after the work we did after Thursday's round. I feel like I'm getting my lines and my speed.
"My ball-striking has gotten better. I felt so good over the ball today. I didn't put myself in a position where I needed to be."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)