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A poor putting day ends with a big one for Tiger

india Updated: Sep 30, 2006 22:36 IST
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Tiger Woods was exasperated after missing a half-dozen birdie putts inside 12 feet, each one costing him a chance to pull away in the American Express Championship.

One putt changed everything.

Woods holed a 35-foot putt to eagle the par-5 18th for the third straight day, turning a decent round into a good one at 4-under 67 and building a six-shot lead Saturday going into the final round at The Grove.

He was at 19-under 194 and had a comfortable lead over Adam Scott, who shot 65 but didn't get his wish.

"At the moment, I've made up a few shots," Scott said after his round. "Hopefully, it stays where it is right now, and you never know. There might be a chance for me to run him down tomorrow." Woods was finishing up the 17th hole at the time, his lead at four shots.

After hitting his tee shot into the left rough, Woods caught a decent enough lie to give it a crack at the green, and he flushed it. The ball hopped onto the front of the elevated green and rolled 35 feet away, and Woods smiled when it dropped as if The Grove owed him one.

It's hard to believe a course would owe anything to a player who has treated it like a pitch-and-putt over three days, but Woods had reason to wonder if anything would fall on a breezy afternoon with sunshine, clouds and thunder on the horizon.

He missed birdie putts of 6 feet on the first two holes, missed another great chance from 8 feet on the sixth, and three-putted from 35 feet on No. 8, missing a 5-foot par putt.

That dropped him to 14 under, only two shots ahead of David Howell, and the World Golf Championship was starting to come to life. But that lasted only a few minutes.

Woods hit a mammoth tee shot on the ninth and hit his approach into 10 feet for his first birdie. Then after missing two more birdie chances - including a 6-footer at No. 11 - he hit a wedge into 6 feet on the 12th for birdie, and his challengers started falling back.

It was his lowest 54-hole score since he was at 18-under 192 at Firestone in the 2000 NEC Invitational, where he led by nine shots after three rounds and went on to win by 11. And the six-shot lead was his largest since Woods led by the same margin at the 2003 Western Open.

Scott played bogey-free at the Grove, and despite failing to take advantage of the par 5s on the back nine, was at 13-under 200. Brett Quigley, playing his first World Golf Championship, shot 67 and was at 201, along with Jim Furyk (69).

Stewart Cink shot 70 and was at 11-under 202.

Howell was the biggest threat early, closing to within two shots of Woods through 10 holes. But he sputtered after that, playing his final eight holes in five pars and three bogeys to drop back to a 71, leaving him nine shots behind.

Woods is 37-3 on the PGA Tour (43-5 worldwide) when he has a 54-hole lead, one of the most intimidating marks in golf. He has never given up a final-round lead when leading by more than one shot, so that doesn't bode well for the rest of the field.

A victory would be his sixth straight on the PGA Tour, although his overall winning streak ended two weeks ago at the World Match Play Championship when Shaun Micheel beat him in the first round.

Starting times for the final round at The Grove were moved up about 2 hours, with players grouped in threesomes, because of thunderstorms in the forecast Sunday afternoon.

At this rate, that might be the only thing that can stop Woods from his eighth victory of the year, each win moving him closer to the 2000 standard that many thought he could not reach again.