When Tiger Woods hit a curling, downhill birdie putt at Merion Golf Club’s first hole, he pumped his right fist, and the fight seemed on. That got Woods to 2 over for the U.S. Open, within three shots of leaders Phil Mickelson and Billy Horschel. Maybe this would be the day that his recent history of weekend struggles at majors would end.

Nearly five hours later, though, Woods faced a putt of no more than two feet at the 16th, and he lipped it out. That was his sixth of his seven bogeys on the day, and his chance to contend was long gone. The fist pump was replaced by a blank stare.

Woods shot a miserable 76 Saturday — his highest score in a major since the 2006 Open at Winged Foot, where he missed the cut — and enters Sunday’s final round at 9-over-par 219.

“It is certainly frustrating because I certainly was feeling like I was playing well this week and I just didn’t make the putts I needed to make,” Woods said.

He was nearly matched by his playing partner from the first two rounds, 2011 Open champ Rory McIlroy. Woods and McIlroy each shot 73 in the first round and 70 in the second, and McIlroy — who also birdied the first hole Saturday — was just one better than Woods with a 75 to stand at 8-over 218.

Garcia’s struggles continue

Sergio Garcia’s first-round 73 was marred by wayward tee shots at Nos. 14 and 15. Both went out of bounds, and they led to double bogey 6 and quadruple bogey 8, the holes that essentially knocked him from contention.

Saturday, he stepped to the 15th tee again. He hit his first ball out of bounds left, where Golf House Rd. runs. He reloaded, and hit the next one there as well. One more time: Out of bounds to the left. He finally put his fourth tee shot in play, but made a sextuple bogey 10 on the hole. And somehow, he managed to shoot 75.

“When I made an 8 on Thursday I hit a lot of bad shots,” Garcia said. “Funny enough, I only hit one bad shot today and I made 10. My first shot was into the wind and it went out of bounds. My second one I thought it was even better and it went out of bounds by five inches. And then the third one wasn’t great. And after that I took a chance and the round came out nicely.”

Garcia enters the final round 11 over. Had he hit all of his tee shots in-bounds for the week, he would be 3 over and on the fringe of contending. . . .

Michael Kim, a 19-year-old who plays college golf at Cal, thrust himself onto the leader board with four birdies on his first six holes on the back side Saturday. But he finished bogey-bogey-bogey for a 71, and sits at 4 over.

“I kept looking at the leader board, not because I wanted to know how I was doing in the tournament,” Kim said. “But it was so cool to see my name next to those names like Mickelson, Donald, Schwartzel. It was just an incredible feeling.”

Kim is looking to be the first amateur to finish in the top 10 at the U.S. Open since 1971, right here at Merion, when Jim Simons tied for fifth.