Tiger Woods stood in the middle of the fifth fairway Saturday morning, and there it was, an iron twirling in his hand, a ball traveling precisely where he intended it to go. The difference from Friday’s meltdown in the second round of the Masters was striking. Yet by day’s end, Woods’s putter had betrayed him enough that he merely treaded water, firing an even-par 72 to remain 3 over for the tournament with only the final round remaining.

The result of all that: frustration.

“It’s so frustrating because I’m so close to doing it,” said Woods, who has won four Masters. “I’m so close to turning it around.”

Solid putting, though, might have completed the turnaround. Woods missed an eight-footer for birdie at 2, then after back-to-back birdies at 3 and 4, missed another eight-footer at 5. Just as he seemed ready to press toward the leader board, he three-putted from the fringe at the par-3 sixth for bogey, then closed with 11 straight pars.

After Friday’s erratic and emotional 75, Woods worked on the range with his swing coach, Sean Foley, until after dark. He was there early Saturday morning, with Foley both pantomiming swings and pulling out his smartphone to take pictures of Woods’s setup, which he then shared with his client. Though Woods hit the ball much better, he again failed to take advantage of the par 5s — he has just one birdie in 12 attempts this week — and stalled.

“It was just one thing after another,” Woods said. “So you have got to be patient, which I was today.”

That was not the case during the second round, when Woods was caught by ESPN cameras swearing after a couple of shots.

“I apologize if I offended anybody by that,” he said Saturday. He was also asked about kicking his 9-iron after a miserable tee shot at the par-3 16th.

“I certainly heard that people didn’t like me kicking the club, but I didn’t like it either,” Woods said. “I hit it right in the bunker and [it] didn’t feel good on my toe, either.”

Woods sits 12 shots back of leader Peter Hanson. The greatest comeback to win after 54 holes belongs to Jack Burke, who stood eight shots back in 1956.

“Anything can happen,” Woods said. “I need to put myself there where I have a chance.”

Nine holes trip up McIlroy

A year ago, Rory McIlroy’s Masters experience was defined by the 43 he shot over the final nine holes, when he frittered away what had been a four-shot lead. McIlroy entered Saturday just a shot back of Fred Couples’s lead – and gave it back with a 42 on the front nine, en route to a 77 that left him at 1 over.

“Seems like every year I come here I throw a bad nine holes out there,” McIlroy said.

His round was bad from the start, with a double bogey from the trees on the first. He also made double bogey at the par-4 7th, then another 6 at the par-5 eighth, normally a birdie hole. . . .

Couples, the 52-year-old 1992 champ, struggled from the start Saturday, opening with consecutive bogeys en route to a 75 that left him 2 under. . . .

Gary Woodland withdrew after shooting 85 Saturday with a wrist injury.