The PGA Championship became a barrage of birdies on Saturday, turning the final major of the year into a wide-open affair until Woods fired off three straight of his own and suddenly made it look like an open-and-shut case.
He matched the course record with a 7-under 65, giving him a share of the lead with British-born Luke Donald, who lives in the Chicago area and got plenty of support on his way to a 66.
Woods is 11-0 in the majors when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead, and he got there with one last birdie on the par-3 17th. His 12-foot putt nearly spun out of the hole, and Woods pointed his finger at the cup as if telling his golf ball to behave.
He had a one-shot lead last month at the British Open and pulled away early for a two-shot victory. He was tied for the lead seven years ago at Medinah in the '99 PGA Championship and held off a 19-year-old Sergio Garcia.
'We know he's a good closer, so we're going to have to give it our best,' said Garcia, whose 67 left him four shots behind.
Woods soared into the lead with a string of splendid shots, starting with a 3-iron from 250 yards over Lake Kadijah to 6 feet on the par-3 13th. Then came a bunker shot to 2 feet on the par-5 14th, and a 9-iron from a sand-filled divot to 3 feet on the 15th.
All that went wrong was a three-putt bogey on the next hole, ending his streak of 50 holes at par or better.
'In most major championships, you make pars and sprinkle in a couple of birdies here and there and you're looking pretty good,' Woods said. 'Today you would have just been run over, which is different.'
He and Donald were at 14-under 202, tying the 54-hole record in relation to par at this major. David Toms was at 14-under 196 through three rounds when he won the PGA in Atlanta five years ago.
Ten players were tied for the lead at one point.
Woods came along and it looked like it might be a one-man show until Donald hit his tee shot into 4 feet on the 17th to join him.
They still have plenty of company, and some of those faces are familiar.
Mike Weir, who shared the 54-hole lead with Woods in 1999 at Medinah, also shot 65 despite a bogey on the final hole. He was at 204.
One shot behind was U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, one of the few who was able to recover from a mistake. He took double bogey on the first hole, but scratched out a 68 to finish at 205. Garcia and former PGA champion Shaun Micheel (67) were another shot back.
'There's still a bunch of guys. Basically, 9 to 14 (under) all have a chance to win tomorrow,' Woods said.
But it all starts with Woods, going for his third straight victory and second straight major title against a fresh face. Donald won his second PGA Tour event in February at the Honda Classic, but has struggled in the Grand Slam events.
'It's going to be a little different. I haven't really contended in a major before,' said Donald, who stayed in Chicago after going to Northwestern, where he won the NCAA title in 1999. 'This will be a little bit different pressure.'
Woods will try to become the first player in the 90-year history of the PGA Championship to win twice on the same course, having captured the Wanamaker Trophy in 1999 by hanging on against Garcia.
This round was full throttle.
Woods and Donald watched the early round on television and saw plenty of birdies, knowing what they had to do.
'It looked like it could be had out there,' Woods said. 'I felt like I had to go get it.'
What might have been great rounds at other majors were just ordinary at soft, vulnerable Medinah.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson cured flaws in his swing and fired at the pins, leaving himself tap-in birdies that carried him into a brief share of the lead through nine holes. But his putter let him down, a flop shot on the 18th didn't reach the green and he had to settle for a 68, leaving him six shots behind.
'It will take a 7- or 8-under-par round to have a chance,' he said.
Weir still had a hard time believing he could shoot 65 in a major and pick up only one shot against the leaders. Even more unnerving is chasing Woods, although he's eager for another chance.
'I know everybody's expectations are that he's going to go out and win the championship, because he's done it so many times from the front,' Weir said. 'But there's always time to stop the streak, so hopefully, I can do it.'
The scoring was no surprise.
The air was thick with humidity and heavy clouds hung over Medinah after rain pounded the course overnight. Greens that already were soft and spongy became like Velcro and allowed players to take dead aim at the flag.
'The PGA of America can't control Mother Nature,' Weir said. 'What can you do? It is what it is. You've got to make some birdies.'
Did they ever. Medinah came alive with cheers that resounded from all corners, a far different atmosphere from the groans often heard at a U.S. Open. The pace was so hectic that 10 players were tied for the lead at one point.
But for all the birdies, perhaps the most important putt of the day was for par.
Woods started his round by spraying a 3-wood deep in the trees on the right, and his punch shot clipped branches before settling into thick rough well short of the green. All he could do was pound a wedge 35 feet by the hole.
After studying the line halfway between the ball and his hole, his par putt dropped on the final turn and Woods slammed his fist. He followed that with a tee shot that never left the flag as it sailed over Lake Kadijah and settled 7 feet away for birdie.
'I was off and running,' Woods said.
With so much drama, about the only aspect to this tournament that turned into a dud was the race for the Ryder Cup team.
Davis Love III was one shot out of the lead, needing eighth place at Medinah to earn a spot on his seventh straight team, and he sure proved himself early. With U.S. captain Tom Lehman watching from across the second green, Love holed a bunker shot for an early share of the lead. He holed another bunker shot for birdie at the fifth to reach 9 under.
But that was as good as it got. Love made too many bogeys, not nearly enough birdies, shot 73 and was in a tie for 18th.
Other Ryder Cup hopefuls also languished.
Stewart Cink shot 73 and Lucas Glover shot 77 to fall out of contention. Barring a big charge from Tim Herron on Sunday, there probably won't be a change in the standings, giving the American team four Ryder Cup rookies.