-- PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The Tiger Woods of a different time may very well have walked off the Champions course at PGA National on Saturday in a foul mood, annoyed at the opportunities missed and the mistakes made.
There were all those birdie putts that did not drop, then bogeys on two of the closing par-3s when the wind and water got the best of him.
A 1-under-par 69 in the third round of the Honda Classic was "probably the highest score I could have shot,'' Woods said.
And yet he was pleased.
Perhaps one of the best signs so far in Woods' comeback from spinal fusion surgery is the level of patience and tempered expectations that he has brought into the arena. He lost ground on the leaders, and to think he can win in just his fourth tournament back is a stretch.
But the signs of success were there.
Woods shot his first score in the 60s this year, and he hit his highest number of fairways (nine) and greens (14) of any of his nine rounds and finished the third round of the Honda Classic in a tie for 11th.
"I really hit it good,'' Woods said. "I really had nice control of it today. If I could have just made a few more putts on the front nine, could have got the round started. I got the round started with a par putt on 12. Overall I feel very pleased to shoot something in the red and give myself a chance going into tomorrow, see what happens.''
With conditions slightly easier than they had been the first two days, scoring was better. Luke List stayed atop the leaderboard by shooting 4-under-par 66 to finish at 203, 7 under par. Justin Thomas is a shot back along with Webb Simpson. Woods is seven strokes off the lead.
There has been improvement in Woods' driving and proximity to the hole with approach shots -- his average of 29 feet ranks second in the field this week. A week ago at the Genesis Open, Woods hit just 16 of 36 greens in regulation. He hit 13 on Saturday and has hit 34 out of 54 for the week.
Woods had 14 putts at birdie during the third round, all but one inside of 25 feet.
"I thought he played really well,'' said Jason Dufner, the 2013 PGA champion who played with Woods on Saturday and has played several practice rounds with him. "I played with him a bunch before he went to San Diego (where he tied for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open) and L.A. (where he missed the cut) at Medalist so I'm kind of familiar with where he's at and how he's going.
"The stuff I saw at home was a little bit better than I saw in San Diego and L.A., but I think he's starting to get the wheels going a little bit and figuring out how to play golf again. And there's a lot involved in playing out here on the PGA Tour, more than you guys think you know or anybody knows. Today was closer to what I saw in our casual rounds, which is a good indication that he's on his way to playing some good golf.''
Woods did not make his first bogey until arriving at the vaunted Bear Trap. On Friday, he hit a ball in the water off the tee at the par-4 15th, leading to a double-bogey, then bogeyed the 16th hole by 3-putting.
On Saturday, he wasn't going in the water. Woods pulled his tee shot into an impossible position and yet nearly pulled off a great chip shot. "He almost pulled off a flop shot that would have been stupid good,'' Dufner said.
Woods also bogeyed the par-3 17th, again steering clear of the water and leaving himself a tough flop shot.
But he rebounded with a birdie at the par-5 18th -- his first in par-5s for the week, hitting a 235-yard iron shot out of a fairway bunker, pin high but just off the green. He chipped up close for birdie.
"He seems to be getting better each day,'' said caddie Joe LaCava.
Sunday brings another challenge: a final round that matters, with numerous obstacles, including a seven-shot deficit and 10 players in front of him.
"I'm excited about it,'' he said. "I've got a shot going into tomorrow. My job is to go out and post a number.''