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MASTERS NOTEBOOK

Apologetic Tiger Woods stuck in neutral at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Tiger Woods came to the Masters hoping for a carry-over. Three days in, he’d probably like a do-over.

Flush with confidence and momentum after ending the longest winless drought of his career two weeks ago at Bay Hill, Woods had Augusta National Golf Club buzzing before the start of play on Thursday. In the eyes of many, he was the one to beat, in the best position to add to his green jacket collection, which stands at four.

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Instead, he’s been a non-factor. Woods has failed to break par in any of his three rounds, raised some eyebrows with his on-course behavior, and shown that he’s got much more work to do if he wants to resemble the player he once was. He shot an even-par 72 Saturday, and is tied for 38th at 3 over, 12 behind leader Peter Hanson.

“Just trying to get back to how I had it at Bay Hill and prior to Bay Hill,’’ Woods said. “I got here and for some reason I kind of fell into my same old patterns again. I just can’t do that.

“It’s so frustrating because I’m so close to doing it. I’m so close to turning it around. I would just hit a couple of good shots in a row and compound the problem with a bad shot in the wrong spot. I know where I need to miss it and I don’t miss in that spot.’’

Pinpointing problem areas for Woods this week has been easy. He’s driving it poorly, he’s missing birdie putts when he’s had opportunities, and he’s not picking up any strokes on the four par-5 holes, a quartet he annually manhandles. He’s played 12 par-5s so far, and has 11 pars and one birdie. Coming in, he had averaged 4.49 strokes on the par-5 holes at the Masters, which is just about 8 under par for the week.

“I would like to say it was poor driving, but then I drive in the fairways and then miss into a bad spot, or I would miss the drive and then compound the problem from there, or hit two really nice shots up there or three good shots up there in a position where I could make birdie, and then I would miss,’’ Woods said. “It was just one thing after another.’’

His frustration has been visible, including late in his round on Friday, when he pushed his tee shot on No. 16 into the right bunker. Woods dropped his club to the ground, then kicked it off the tee. He could face disciplinary action from the tour for the display.

“I certainly heard that people didn’t like me kicking the club, but I didn’t like it, either,’’ Woods said. “I’m frustrated at times, and I apologize if I offended anybody by that.’’

Bradley learning

Keegan Bradley joked before the tournament that he had won every major he had ever played in and that winning one wasn’t as hard as everyone makes it out to be. But Bradley is finding how small the margin for error can be, especially at the Masters.

“It was one of those days where you miss in spots by a couple inches, and have no chance from there,’’ said Bradley, minutes after capping his third-round 73 with a double bogey on the 18th. “I played better than that score. I’ve played like that all week, just playing really well and catching a few bad breaks. It’s just not my week so far.’’

Bradley is 5 over and tied for 44th, guaranteeing that he won’t add to the major he won eight months ago near Atlanta at the PGA Championship. As a first-time Masters participant, Bradley is trying to learn as much as he can, since he’s eligible for at least the next four Masters based off his PGA win.

“It’s been an adjustment trying to figure out how to play the course,’’ Bradley said. “I needed to shoot something in the mid-60s to even have a chance, but it’s a tough course to do that on.’’

Terrific twosome

Hunter Mahan and Padraig Harrington both started the day five shots off the lead, but worked their way into contention by each shooting 4-under-par 68. Paired together, they combined for 12 birdies, and would have had a better-ball score of 9-under 63.

Mahan is the only multiple winner on the PGA Tour this year, and is looking for his first major. Harrington won his three in a 13-month span: back-to-back British Opens (2007-08), and the 2008 PGA. He’s not given himself much of a chance in the majors since then, missing six of 12 cuts, with only one finish better than 22d, a tie for 10th at the 2009 PGA.

Now, after rebuilding his swing the past few years (he’s an admitted tinkerer), he’s back near the lead.

“I know my form, I’ve been happy with it in terms of how I’ve been playing, but I haven’t been putting well,’’ said Harrington, who birdied five of his last six holes. “So I didn’t have any expectations of where I would be or anything like that. I’m going to let it happen rather than try and force anything.’’

Mahan won last week in Houston, and came here expecting to play well. It took him a little while to get going (72-72 to start), but he’s driven it well and has just one three-putt through three rounds.

“The only thing I want to do tomorrow is just be very, very much in the moment and stay in it all day long and just play as close to one shot at a time as I can,’’ Mahan said. “Try to take as much time out there to enjoy it, because it’s pretty special.’’

Pickup game

The course and the conditions might have looked perfect on television, but players still were dealing with the after-effects of heavy rain earlier in the week. With fairways remaining wet, balls frequently are picking up mud.

“We had probably more mud on our ball today than we had the other days,’’ said Steve Stricker, who shot 72 and is 4 over. “It’s a tough enough course, tough enough place to play, let alone walk up to every ball hoping you don’t have mud on there. I think that’s what’s making it difficult. It’s tough to be aggressive, tough to determine what the ball is going to do.’’

Amateur’s hour?

Hideki Matsuyama is closing in on becoming low amateur for the second straight year after shooting a 72 to finish 54 holes at 1 over. The two-time Asian Amateur champion leads US Amateur runner-up Patrick Cantlay (74) by six shots and US Amateur winner Kelly Kraft (77) by nine . . . Kraft, who made a nervy 6-footer for bogey on No. 18 just to make the cut, was first off in the third round. Because an odd number of players advanced to the weekend, he could have gone off as a single, but played instead with a club-provided marker . . . It’s just about impossible to get on Augusta National, but Bradley’s 18-month-old nephew, Aiden, was knocking around a big ball with a plastic golf club behind the clubhouse, chasing after it in bare feet after his uncle’s third round . . . Gary Woodland was hampered by a left wrist injury throughout the round, and frequently applied a big bag of ice between shots. That explains his 85, the highest score of the day. He withdrew after the round.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.
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