ARDMORE, PENNSYLVANIA // Tiger Woods began the final round of the US Open still in the tournament but no longer in contention for his 15th major championship.
Woods failed to tame his putter over a frustrating first three days at Merion Golf Course, and he skidded to a six-over par 76 in the third round, matching his worst round in his 17 US Open appearances.
He was tied 31st and 10 shots back of the third-round leader Phil Mickelson.
Despite leading the PGA Tour in putting in recent weeks, Woods needed 36 putts Saturday on the severely undulating greens. He blamed his inability to gauge the speed of those baffling putting surfaces for his three days of uneven play - and he was right.
Woods is tied for third in fairways hit and 22nd in reaching the greens in regulation. But he is averaging 32 putts per round, which left him tied for 53rd in the field of 73 players.
"It's certainly frustrating because I was feeling like I was playing well this week and I just didn't make the putts I needed to make," he said. "The first two days, I had, like, three three-putts and I was four shots off the lead, and I missed a boatload of putts within 10 feet. So I really wasn't that far off. If I clean up the round and don't three-putt, I'm one shot back starting [Saturday].
"Basically, I just didn't have the speed right this week and it certainly showed."
Woods's toughest stretch came at holes 3-6, where he made three bogeys. He blamed the last of those for setting the negative tone that hung over his round like the storm clouds that rolled over Merion throughout Thursday's opening round.
His troubles on the sixth included a tee shot that came to a stop in another player's divot in the fairway, as well as a delicate green-side chip that rolled back and left him facing his next shot from farther back.
"I think the bogey five really turned my round around," Woods said. "I drove it right in the middle of the fairway and I end up in a ball mark from somebody else's ball mark, so it was kind of the way it went."
This US Open marks exactly five years since Woods won his last major, the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, which he captured in a play-off against Rocco Mediate, despite hobbling around with ligament damage in his knee.
His pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's career record of 18 majors remains stalled at 14 because of his failure to win the past 17 majors he has entered.
Woods also shot a 76 in the final round at Shinnecock Hills in 2004, as well as two rounds of 76 at Winged Foot in 2006, when he missed the cut.
Woods's worst round ever at an Open was a 77 at Oakland Hills in 1996, when he was a 19-year-old amateur.
What made his performance here perhaps even more surprising is that Woods has already won four times this season, including The Players Championship - sometimes called golf's fifth major - and three of his past five starts.
Most recently, however, he stumbled to an eight-over-par finish and a tie for 65th at the Memorial, a tournament he had won five times.
Woods said several tough pin placements chosen by the US Golf Association's course set-up compounded his problems trying to figure out the speed of the greens.
He said: "Look at what they did at seven and eight. Couple short holes, but seven is one step and a half over the top of the ridge. Eight is on the down slope a little bit, and it's a pretty steep slope. So they got some really tough ones out there."
But he also conceded he rarely put his approach shots into those greens where he should have.
"If you put the ball in the right spots you've got uphill putts and you can be really aggressive," Woods said.
He did not suggest he could make up 10 shots and climb 30 places on the leaderboard in 18 holes yesterday. What little consolation he could muster came when someone asked, "Tough day?"
"Yeah," Woods replied, before recalling his lone birdie, on the first hole. "At least I started well."