Following a brilliant performance in brutal weather Friday, Woods made only two birdies under ideal scoring conditions in round three at Bethpage State Park.
That pair, however, came over Tigers final four holes on the Black Course. With his lead cut to two, Woods birdied 15 and 17 to shoot even-par 70 and remain at 5-under for the tournament.
'I hung around, that's what you have to do, you have to fight and grind it out. I pride myself in that,' Woods said.
Sergio Garcia shot 3-under 67 to reach 1-under-par. Phil Mickelson climbed into red numbers with a birdie at the 17th, but bogeyed the last for a 67. He shares third place, at even-par 210, with Jeff Maggert (68).
'Eighteen more holes tomorrow on a golf course that, if you hit good shots, you can maybe make birdies,' said Mickelson, who is competing in his 40th major championship. 'I think that opens the door for the opportunity for lots of players to maybe make a move.'
Bill Mayfair (68), Robert Allenby (67) and Padraig Harrington (73) are six back, at 1-over.
'I think I have a chance,' said Garcia, who will play alongside Woods in the final round.
History shows otherwise. This is the seventh time Woods has taken a 54-hole lead in a major championship. Hes won all seven times.
The rain finally subsided Saturday morning, after an unrelenting display the day before. The temperature even picked up a few degrees, into the lower 60s.
But Tiger seemed to be on the opposite end of nature's seesaw ' as it went up, he came down.
Woods entered the third round with a three-shot lead over Harrington, and actually increased his advantage even though he shot 1-over 36 on the front.
Harrington started his day with a couple of 15-foot par saves ' which brought a pair of relieved smiles to the affable Irishmans face ' but his errant attack soon caught up with him.
Still three down to Tiger, Harrington double bogeyed the fifth, but dropped only one shot, as Woods missed a five-footer for par. His savior through two rounds, Tigers putter turned turncoat. He missed a six-footer for par at the 11th to drop to minus 3.
'It wasn't necessarily that I didn't putt well. To be honest with you, I wasn't swinging the club anywhere near as I did the first two days. Because of that, I fired away from a lot of the flags and left myself 20- and 30-footers,' Woods said.
As Woods crept closer to the black, others started to make a move to the red. Garcia stiffed his tee shot at the par-3 14th to a foot; Maggert matched his playing partners birdie; Allenby birdied 15 from 25 feet; and Mickelson coaxed in a curler for birdie at 15, as well.
In just a span of minutes, four players were within three of Tiger, at even par.
Allenby dropped quickly from the fray with bogeys on 16 and 17, but Mickelson kept climbing. He became the first player since Harrington doubled the fifth to reach red figures, by birdieing the par-3 17th.
And before fans could finish applauding Leftys 2, Garcia dropped in a birdie at the par-4 16th to also get within two of Tiger, at 1-under-par.
'For a moment, it looked like it was going to be quite close,' Garcia said.
While putts rattled in from the groups in front of him, Tigers ball continued to dodge the hole. He reached the green in two at the par-5 13th, but blew his eagle effort well past the cup and three-putted for par.
'Even though I was 2-over for the day, I was still leading - they had to catch me,' Woods said. 'I just kept telling myself, 'Just hang in there. You have the lead.''
Woods finally got one to fall at the 15th, when he nailed a 12-footer to get back to 4-under. He then carried that momentum through to the 17th, where he stuck his tee ball to eight feet and converted birdie No. 2.
Woods failed to birdie 18, however; the first time he hasnt closed with a birdie this week.
Garcia, too, parred the last, but his putt earned him a berth in the final pairing. The two battled for the title at the 1999 PGA Championship in Medinah, but were not paired together.
'I've been driving to prove myself for a while,' said Garcia, who was one shot off the 54-hole lead last year at Southern Hills, but shot 77 in the final round. 'We'll see if we can give (Tiger) another nice run tomorrow and make it exciting.'
Full-field scores from the 102nd U.S. Open