FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - It appears as if a bad one-hour span of golf is going to cost Tiger Woods the opportunity to defend his U.S. Open championships, the one from last year and the one from 2002, the last time the Open came to Bethpage Black.

Woods could not get his putter to cooperate with his attempt at a comeback yesterday in the third round. Although he shot a 2-under-par 68, which tied him for the second-best score of the day, he made up just 2 strokes on the leader, Ricky Barnes.

So Woods began his final 18 late yesterday at 1-over 211 - in a tie for 15th place - and trailing Barnes by 9 shots, needing nothing short of a miracle to gain his record-tying fourth Open title and his 15th career major championship.

"It's one of those [situations] where you have to play a great round of golf and get some help," Woods said after his third round. "Obviously it's not totally in my control. The only thing I can control is whether I can play a good round or not."

Woods went seven holes of the final round before play was called, standing at 1-under for the round and even par for the championship.

Woods will look back on the final four holes of his first round as his downfall. He played that stretch in 4 over - a double bogey, two bogeys, and a par - on Friday despite dry, benign conditions, for a round of 74. It's been uphill ever since.

"I finished off the first day very poorly," he said. "Given the conditions and the way we were playing, if I would have just cleaned that round up and finished at even par, it would have been a pretty darned good score.

"But that finish put me so far back. I had to try and make up shots the entire time, and as of right now, I've only made up 3."

Woods hit 12 greens in regulation in the third round but converted only three birdie chances.

Mudding about. With soft conditions after overnight rain that delayed the resumption of play, Sean O'Hair managed to keep his wits about him in a round of 71 that put him in a tie for eighth at 209 and in line for his second straight top-10 finish in a major.

"It was tough because there were a lot more mud balls than the other two days," the West Chester resident said. "The fairways are pretty wet. You're putting good swings on it and the ball's going sideways and you just had to fight it and make a lot of up-and-downs."

O'Hair, who tied for 10th in the Masters, carded three birdies in his round against four bogeys, the last of which came at the 18th where a 7-iron from a sopping-wet fairway came up short.

"You can't do anything about it," he said. "Getting upset with it is not going to do any good. So I just tried to stay patient and I did a really good job of that."

However, O'Hair faltered in the evening, with a double bogey at the par-5 fourth that dropped him to 1 over for the tournament.

As for his wife, Jackie, who is about to give birth to the couple's third child, O'Hair said she was fine.

The magic 10. With an eagle on the fourth hole, Barnes became the fourth player in the history of the U.S. Open to get his total score to double digits under par.

Barnes went to 11 under for the championship, joining Gil Morgan (1992), Woods (2000), and Jim Furyk (2003) in reaching a score of 10 under.

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.