Even after shooting an opening-round 62 two weeks ago at the BMW Championship, Woods found himself trailing heading into the weekend, fighting to get in contention.
Kyle Stanley and Spain's Jon Rahm are a further three shots back on six under, six strokes behind Woods.
"Simple math says that if I play a clean card, the guys behind me have to shoot 67 to force it into extra", Woods said after his round, when asked about the mental advantage of this rare late lead. "That helps. I don't have to shoot 63 or 64 and hope I get help". Finau made three bogeys on the back nine for a 71, ending his streak of 16 consecutive rounds in the 60s. "Yesterday I hit a ton of fairways, and I felt like it was an easy course, but today was much more of a struggle".
Woods, the 14-time major victor, has the 54-hole lead for the first time since his last victory in 2013 at the Bridgestone Invitational.
There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas.
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"It's a little more unknown now", Rose said, when asked if it felt different to chase Woods on Sunday these days than in years past.
"Finally I've come to a point where I've got control of the lead".
"All I can do is concentrate on myself", McIlroy said of the pairing.
However Woods has progressed steadily during his comeback season, leading the British Open during the final round in July before finishing second at last month's PGA Championship. "This is a spot I'd much rather be in than certainly four or five back".
The Saturday start was simply mesmerizing. He set the tone by holing from more than 20 feet on the first hole and only a par on the second interrupted his stunning early birdie sequence. His wedge settled 8 feet below the hole on No. 3. Two short birdies followed.
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It seemed nearly surreal as Woods went through the first seven holes in six-under.
The cheers were endless, and there was no doubting what was going on. "What an atmosphere it is out there this week". The first one? Way back in 1996, when as a 20-year-old making his third start as a pro, Woods led by a shot, only to get beat by an aging veteran named Ed Fiori, who possessed a unusual grip and who to this day Woods still refers to as "The Gripper". "But I thought I could sneak it up there and get up on the upslope and have a good angle in there, and it just didn't work out".
Woods usually wears a red top during his final round so it will be interesting to see if the Northern Irishman goes ahead with the mind/fashion games. On Sunday, he get a front-row seat. Several other Ryder Cup golfers will be paired together in the final tournament round before next week's matches in Paris.
Rose won't be in the final group, but he has plenty on the line even if he doesn't catch Woods. He's posted six top-10 finishes, including finishing runner-up at the PGA Championship, in 2018.
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