A three-putt bogey on 18, his only blemish of the day, knocked Woods out of the final pairing and took the air out of the massive crowd at Sedgefield C.C.
Woods’ putter cooled off on Saturday – he needed 31 putts, his highest total through three rounds – but he was able to make several key par saves, including a 24-foot putt at No. 10 and a downhill 4-footer on 17, to stay in the mix for his first trophy since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
"It was a grind today," Woods said. "Like yesterday, I kept leaving myself above the hole, seemed like on every hole. I had to putt so defensively because of it ... I just didn't put myself in the right spots."
Back in the good ol’ days, the 14-time major champion would have increased his lead and had an easy stroll to victory in the final round. Woods looked to be on his way when he birdied Nos. 1 and 5, but he couldn’t convert several good looks at birdie until the par-3 16th. Woods still had a good chance to take the lead over the closing holes, but he hit two awful approach shots into 17 and 18.
He was able to get up and down from in front of the green on 17, but on 18 his 5-footer for par spun around the hole.
"I hit a good putt," Woods said. "Just hung in there at the end and lipped out. But, overall, I thought I made a lot of putts today for pars. Unfortunately, they were all for par from 6 feet on in. That was my only miss."
It could prove to be a costly miss. Woods has won nine of 12 times when he’s one back heading into the final round. He’s won only six of 20 times when he’s two back.
A win on Sunday would rewrite the script to Woods’ season. He’s struggled all year with his new swing under consultant Chris Como, and the 39-year-old Woods has even deflected questions about retirement. It would be his 80th win, putting him two behind Sam Snead, and Woods would advance to next week’s FedEx Cup Playoffs in New Jersey.
But first he must past another important milestone in his long road back from back surgery and swing changes. His new swing has yet to be tested with a trophy on the line.
"It's not a golf course in which you can sit and make a bunch of pars and expect to win," Woods said. "You got to go get it."