Even after a week of low scoring because of soft, slow greens, the third round was mystifying.
'I can't remember too many golf courses that have been easier than this one,' Woods said.
Zach Johnson flirted with a 59 until he hit into a bunker on the par-3 18th hole and had to settle for a par and a course-record 60. Mark Calcavecchia shot a 63 and only picked up one shot on the world's No. 1 player.
Woods was watching and laughing from the par-5 15th fairway as Calcavecchia made eagle to join him atop the leaderboard, but that didn't last long. Woods birdied his next two holes, and missed a 7-foot birdie on the final hole that put him at 19-under 191.
It was the lowest 54-hole start in Woods career, and it left him poised to win at East Lake for the first time. Woods has never lost a professional tournament when leading by more than one shot going into the final round.
As for the FedExCup?
Phil Mickelson still has a mathematical chance, but the odds are about the same as winning the lottery without buying a ticket. Lefty's only hope was winning the TOUR Championship and having Woods finish lower than second by himself. Mickelson shot 70 and was 13 shots behind, so assuming he doesn't shoot 56 on Sunday, the $10 million goes into Woods' retirement account.
All that remains, even if Woods doesn't win his seventh tournament of the year, is how low the scores will go Sunday. The tournament record is 17-under 263, set by Bart Bryant two years ago.
'If you made a bunch of pars, you were going to get run over, so it was nice to make some birdies and get out there and still maintain the same size lead I had starting out the day,' Woods said. 'You see the rounds today -- 60, 62 -- and guys were taking it deep. I was hoping that I could make some birdies myself and basically shoot something in the mid-60s.'
Calcavecchia was briefly tied after making an 18-foot eagle on No. 15, but he missed the 16th fairway and had to lay up short of the green, and he failed to birdie the last two holes.
He will play with Woods for the first time in the final pairing, although it's quite a consolation prize.
Calcavecchia, at 47 the oldest player in the 30-man field, has become so tired during this four-week stretch of the PGA TOUR Playoffs that he was in last place and teed off as a single in the final round of his last two events. When he finished at Cog Hill on Sunday, he assessed his chances at East Lake this way:
'Somebody is going to finish first and somebody is going to finish 30th, and I know who the favorite is for that.'
Even playing in the final group doesn't change is outlook on the first part of that equation.
'If I play like I did today, I'll have a lot of fun, even if it's not enough,' Calcavecchia said. 'He'll probably keep me relaxed to some degree a little bit. But it's a round of golf with Tiger Woods. It's where you want to be. It's a good spot to be in.'
The sliver of hope in his favor?
Woods is 40-3 on the PGA TOUR when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead, and two of those losses came at East Lake -- in 2000 when he was tied with Vijay Singh and was overtaken by Mickelson, and in 2004, when he was tied with Jay Haas and both were blown away by Retief Goosen.
But a three-shot advantage is daunting, especially the way Woods is playing. His average score is 65.7 in these playoffs.
'That's a pretty big hill to climb,' Calcavecchia said. 'If he was hitting a few foul balls, it might help. But every time I turned around, he was 40 yards ahead of Woody Austin in the fairway. So it's pretty hard to screw up with a pitching wedge into every par 4 and reaching every par 5 easily.'
Austin's bark turned into a whimper.
He turned heads at the PGA Championship when he suggested he outplayed Woods the day the world's No. 1 player shot 63 and Austin shot a 70. Austin said Friday evening that Woods is 'not hard to beat' as long as he doesn't have a big lead and the other guy is playing well.
Austin was within two shots after a tap-in birdie at No. 2, then hit his next approach to within 6 feet. Woods followed with a wedge that spun back to 6 inches for birdie, Austin missed his putt, and that was that.
Austin would up with a 69, a score not posted until Austin confirmed that when he stuck his putter behind his ball on the 15th hole, he did not attempt to hit it. He wound up eight shots out of the lead.
'I played like an idiot,' Austin said. 'I'm embarrassed. But I didn't do anything wrong on 15.'
Sergio Garcia did nothing wrong. He shot a 64 and didn't make up any ground, finishing at 14-under 196. Johnson, meanwhile, was close to perfect. He stood on the 18th green with a chance to shoot 59, but nerves got the best of him and he deposited his 2-iron into the bunker and had to settle for par and a 60.
Woods' only bogey came with a wedge in his hand when he missed the seventh green to the right into a bunker. He picked up short birdies on the ninth and 11th, and when Calcavecchia challenged him, Woods answered with back-to-back birdies.