The 14-times major champion recovered from two early bogeys but his expected charge on "moving day" never materialised and he bogeyed the 15th on the way to a level-par 70, finishing five shots behind leader Adam Scott.
"He always uses irons because he's boring," one fan said to another early in the American's round as the former world number one laced another pinpoint tee shot on to the fairway.
Following bogeys at the first and third holes spectators seemed deflated and Woods looked in need of inspiration from a supporter dressed as superhero Captain America near the fourth green.
"I fought back and just didn't get anything going on that back nine," the 36-year-old told reporters.
"I thought I had a couple of good looks at some putts and didn't make them and misread the putt there at 15," he said of his short missed par putt on the par-four.
Fans still flock to catch a glimpse of one of golf's greatest players who since winning his first Major at the 1997 US Masters has been in hot pursuit of Jack Nicklaus's record 18 titles.
Woods has endured four years without adding another to his haul and his expectant fans crave to see him win again on the biggest stage.
A red-hot putter on Sunday, more birdies than his solitary two on the back nine so far this week and yet more calm conditions might still do it, though pegging back Scott will be tough.
"There are plenty of opportunities out there besides the par‑5s," said Woods of the par-70 Lancashire links which has only two par-fives, four par-threes and 12 par-fours.
"I've had a bunch of 9‑irons into some of these flags and those are the holes you also have to birdie."
Woods, as he has done at the sixth hole all week, carded another birdie at the 492-yard par-four when he rolled in a magnificent 35-footer with one silky smooth stroke of his putter.
A booming drive and fizzing low iron to set up an easy birdie followed at seven and with a third birdie at the short ninth Woods was stalking Scott.
But when the Australian, whose caddie Steve Williams worked for Woods and helped him win 13 Majors, replied with birdies at seven, eight and 11 he took the upper hand and comfortably kept the American at arm's length.
"Adam is in a great spot right now, he's got a four‑shot lead and he's playing really well," Woods said. "He's going for his first Major title so he's in a very good spot."