Melbourne : Tiger Woods` chances of retaining his Australian Masters title all but evaporated in the gloomy rain at Victoria Golf Club after a third round of even par 71 that was highlighted by poor putting on Saturday.
Woods, who has not won a title since claiming the gold jacket at nearby Kingston Heath on Melbourne`s sandbelt a year ago, was on one-under par 212, nine shots off the pace set by overnight leader Australia`s Adam Bland who was 10-under after 12 holes.
Short of a miraculous recovery combined with a spectacular collapse by those above him on Sunday, the world number two will end the year without a title for the first time since he turned professional in 1996.
"I just didn`t make the putts," Woods told Australian television immediately after the round. "I really struggled with getting the ball in the hole.
"I think I need to post a low one (on Sunday) but unfortunately I am so far back that even if I post a low one I still need help from the leaders.
"Hopefully I can get off to a quick start and get it going."
Spain`s Sergio Garcia, who vaulted up the leaderboard in windy conditions on Friday with a six-under 65, found the constant rain and chilly conditions on Saturday less conducive and was four over for his round after 13 holes.
Woods, wearing a white long sleeve undershirt as well as a white shirt and black rain jacket to counter the temperatures that barely registered above 15 degrees Celsius, mixed three birdies with three bogeys on Saturday.
The large galleries who turned up to follow Woods had little to initally cheer as he made bogeys on the par-four second and par-four sixth holes until his tee shot on the par-three seventh when he landed the ball within 12 feet of the pin.
He duly made the birdie putt to an almighty roar, which reverberated around the course southeast of central Melbourne, from the several hundred fans huddled together under umbrellas around the green.
The 14-time major winner bogeyed the par-four eighth, then birdied the par-five ninth but gave the gallery little else to cheer until he almost chipped in from the fairway with his third shot to set up a birdie finish on the par-five 18th.