TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Tiger Woods saved his best golf for the last major.
Woods followed his record-tying 63 at Southern Hills with a round that wasn’t anything special Saturday, but no less effective at the PGA Championship. He made 15 pars in his 1-under 69, giving him a three-shot lead over Stephen Ames going into the final round.
It felt much larger considering the history of the world’s No. 1 player.
Woods is 12-0 when going into the final round of major with at least a share of the lead, and he has never lost any tournament when leading by more than one shot after 54 holes.
“I accomplished my goal today,” Woods said. “My goal was to shoot under par and increase my lead. And I was able to do that.”
A blue towel was draped over his shoulder as Woods, his shirt soaked with sweat from spending four hours in 100-plus degrees, sat in an air-conditioned room.
A white flag might be in order for everyone else.
“The statistics will tell you, yes, it is over,” Ernie Els said after a 69 left him six shots behind. “But as a competitor, I can’t sit there and tell you it’s over. I can’t ever do that.”
But if he were watching from his house?
“If I was not a golfer — a fan on the couch — I’d be putting my house on him, yeah,” Els said.
Woods made it look as though this were a Sunday afternoon and he was protecting his lead, not taking on many flags or working too hard for par. He picked up his lone birdies at Nos. 4 and 12, and had two par saves of about 10 feet on the front nine that allowed him to keep his distance from Scott Verplank and the rest of the field.
Woods finished at 7-under 203 and will play in the final round of a major for the third time this year. He was trailing at the Masters and U.S. Open and never caught up, but the odds are much higher in his favor of capturing his first major of the year.
Ames made a 12-foot birdie on the final hole for a 69 that put him in the final group of a major for the first time. Just his luck he gets Woods, spotting the 12-time major champion a three-shot lead.
Ames bristled when his loss to Woods in the Accenture Match Play Championship last year was brought up again. He jokingly said that anything could happen “especially where he’s hitting the ball,” and Woods went on to a record 9-and-8 victory two days later.
This time, Ames figures he has nothing to lose.
“For me, it’s a great opportunity of being in the situation,” he said. “Tiger’s going for his 13th. I’m looking for my first.”
Only seven players remained under par at Southern Hills.
Woody Austin lost his chance to be in the final group when he took bogey on the final hole for a 69, leaving him at 207. Johnson Senden had a 69 and was another shot back, followed by Els.
Verplank held his own until a double bogey from the rough and trees on the signature 12th hole, and a three-putt from the back of the 18th green for bogey sent him to a 74.
For the briefest moment, the former U.S. Amateur champion from Oklahoma State pulled within one shot. Verplank dribbled an 8-foot birdie putt down the hill and into the cup at No. 4 to reach 5 under, only to watch Woods hole a 6-foot putt to match his birdie and restore the margin to two shots.
Walking to the fifth tee, Verplank smirked and said, “That guy makes everything.”
It sure looked that way.
Woods atoned for a poor chip on the third with a 10-foot par save, and saved par from 10 feet again on the eighth after hitting into a bunker. His streak of 24 straight holes without a bogey ended when he hit 6-iron into the bunker on the 14th and missed from 18 feet.
He led by as many as five shots on the back nine until that bogey on 14. Even so, it was his largest lead going into the final round of a major since the 2005 Masters, which he won in a playoff over Chris DiMarco.
“If you’re trying to win a tournament like this, he’s the wrong guy to let get out ahead of you,” Verplank said.