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He's in good shape, but Tiger Woods stresses that his work isn't yet done. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
He's in good shape, but Tiger Woods stresses that his work isn't yet done. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

With a steady 69, Woods seizes control at Southern Hills

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Tiger Woods was solid, if not spectacular, Saturday at the PGA Championship as he stretched his lead to three shots. Stephen Ames is in second, with Woody Austin and John Senden also among the handful of players under par through 54 holes.

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Tiger Woods saved his best golf for the last major.

Woods followed his record-tying 63 at Southern Hills with a round that wasn't anything special Saturday, but no less effective at the PGA Championship. He made 15 pars in his 1-under 69, giving him a three-shot lead over Stephen Ames going into the final round.

It felt much larger considering the history of the world's No. 1 player.

Woods is 12-0 when going into the final round of major with at least a share of the lead, and he has never lost any tournament when leading by more than one shot after 54 holes.

"I accomplished my goal today," Woods said. "My goal was to shoot under par and increase my lead. And I was able to do that."

A blue towel was draped over his shoulder as Woods, his shirt soaked with sweat from spending four hours in 100-plus degrees, sat in an air-conditioned room.

A white flag might be in order for everyone else.

"The statistics will tell you, yes, it is over," Ernie Els said after a 69 left him six shots behind. "But as a competitor, I can't sit there and tell you it's over. I can't ever do that."

But if he were watching from his house?

"If I was not a golfer -- a fan on the couch -- I'd be putting my house on him, yeah," Els said.

Woods made it look as though this were a Sunday afternoon and he was protecting his lead, not taking on many flags or working too hard for par. He picked up his lone birdies at Nos. 4 and 12, and had two par saves of about 10 feet on the front nine that allowed him to keep his distance from Scott Verplank and the rest of the field.

Woods finished at 7-under 203 and will play in the final round of a major for the third time this year. He was trailing at the Masters and U.S. Open and never caught up, but the odds are much higher in his favor of capturing his first major of the year.

Ames made a 12-foot birdie on the final hole for a 69 that put him in the final group of a major for the first time. Just his luck he gets Woods, spotting the 12-time major champion a three-shot lead.

Ames bristled when his loss to Woods in the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship last year was brought up again. He jokingly said that anything could happen "especially where he's hitting the ball," and Woods went on to a record 9 & 8 victory two days later.

This time, Ames figures he has nothing to lose.

"For me, it's a great opportunity of being in the situation," he said. "Tiger's going for his 13th. I'm looking for my first."

Only five players remained under par at Southern Hills.

Woody Austin lost his chance to be in the final group when he took bogey on the final hole for a 69, leaving him at 207. John Senden had a 69 and was another shot back, followed by Els.

Verplank held his own until a double bogey from the rough and trees on the signature 12th hole, and a three-putt from the back of the 18th green for bogey sent him to a 74.

For the briefest moment, the former U.S. Amateur champion from Oklahoma State pulled within one shot. Verplank dribbled an 8-foot birdie putt down the hill and into the cup at No. 4 to reach 5 under, only to watch Woods hole a 6-foot putt to match his birdie and restore the margin to two shots.

Walking to the fifth tee, Verplank smirked and said, "That guy makes everything."

It sure looked that way.

Woods atoned for a poor chip on the third with a 10-foot par save, and saved par from 10 feet again on the eighth after hitting into a bunker. His streak of 24 straight holes without a bogey ended when he hit 6-iron into the bunker on the 14th and missed from 18 feet.

He led by as many as five shots on the back nine until that bogey on 14. Even so, it was his largest lead going into the final round of a major since the 2005 Masters, which he won in a playoff over Chris DiMarco.

"If you're trying to win a tournament like this, he's the wrong guy to let get out ahead of you," Verplank said.

One after another, players finished their rounds, looked at the top of the leaderboard and figured it would require their best round to have any chance of winning. They have seen this before.

And so has Woods, even if he won't concede the tournament is over.

This is only the fifth time in his career that Woods came to the final major of the year without winning one, although he arrived at Southern Hills fresh off an eight-shot victory at a World Golf Championship. But the work is not done.

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"I've always said in order to have a great year you have to win a major championship," he said. "You can win every tournament, but the majors are where it's at. And this year, I've had some opportunities to deal with this. I haven't done it. I'm in good shape going into tomorrow and hopefully, I can get it done."

The only low scores were in the morning, when the greens were still smooth. Boo Weekley had a chance to shoot 63 until he hit his approach on the 18th about 45 feet away and took three putts for a bogey and a 65.

Playing with Weekley was Sergio Garcia, but not for long. Weekley marked down a 4 for Garcia on the 17th hole when the Spaniard made 5, and Garcia signed it anyway and was disqualified.

Trevor Immelman had a 66, but all that got him was to 1 over par, eight shots behind a guy who has never lost a lead in the majors.

Woods looked as though he might come back to the field, but he steadied himself quickly. He saved par twice on the first three holes, then wiggled his way out of trouble on the par-5 fifth when he bounced his third shot out of the rough, under a tree and tumbling up to the green about 35 feet left of the pin.

He left several birdie putts short, but rarely had to grind for par.

That left him where he wants to be -- in the lead at a major, daring anyone to catch him. The 11 guys who have been paired with him in the final round of a major (Garcia did it twice) still haven't figured it out.

Someone asked Woods what effect his presence atop the leaderboard had on the rest of the field, what would cause a three-time major champion like Els to say he would bet the house on Woods if he weren't trying to beat him.

"Maybe because I've won 12 majors," he replied.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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