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Tiger Woods is concentrating on what he needs to do to win his 13th major on Sunday. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods is concentrating on what he needs to do to win his 13th major on Sunday. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Woods eager to close the major deal for yet another time

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Tiger Woods could hardly have been more pleased with his performance Saturday, a round focused on plodding patience and avoiding the big mistake. All that's left, he believes, is to subdue his opponents with a final display of calmness and competence.

By Dave Shedloski, Senior Correspondent

TULSA, Okla. -- He played a precise, perfunctory, nearly perfect round of golf, one that had the look and feel of a month of his best Sundays, but was submitted on a Saturday, and, in the end, delivered him to one of his favorite locations in the universe: the 54-hole lead in a major championship.

Tiger Woods, who is the No. 1 player in the world and who seeks to have the No. 1 record in golf's annals, could hardly have been more pleased with his third-round performance in the 89th PGA Championship Saturday at Southern Hills Country Club. His mind was clear, his swing was sure, and his domineering demeanor over his contemporaries was embellished -- if that's possible.

Seeking his 13th major championship, Woods waltzed around stuffy Southern Hills without much care or worry. He bunted long irons, parried with his putter, connected dots from here to there to the hole, and signed for a casual but clutch 1-under-par 69. The nearly flawless effort, which seemed to engulf the heated hordes of hardy patrons in alternating spasms of amazement and ennui, gave him a 7-under 203 aggregate total and increased his lead to three strokes over his next nearest competitor, Canada's Stephen Ames.

That Woods has yet to surrender a 54-hole lead in his previous 12 engagements at the top of a major championship leaderboard bodes well for a player who on another broiling afternoon displayed the ice in his veins.

The heat index read 109 degrees Fahrenheit, and, yet, if you looked closely, you'd swear you could see the man's breath when he exhaled.

"I accomplished my goal today," said Woods, 31, who succeeded on another difficult front by carding a solid round on the heels of burning up Southern Hills for a record-tying 63 on Friday. "My goal was to shoot under par and increase my lead. And I was able to do that. Only made one bogey, which was good, and really kept myself out of trouble, so, positive day all around."

The anatomy of a round that was equal parts calculus and poetry entails hitting nine fairways and 14 greens and using 31 putts that were primarily of the lagging, cautious variety. Woods unsheathed his driver only twice. He converted two birdies against one bogey. He aimed at the meaty centers of Southern Hills' caustic greens and just once left himself a second putt of more than three feet.

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It was meticulous and mellifluous and wholly antithetical to the facets of the game from which he derives the most enjoyment. Even today, Woods is bored by the repetitive but necessary exercise of beating balls. He'd much rather chip, putt, create and escape.

Since boyhood, practically, he has known that those elements, if overused, would seldom yield the desired results. He's learned it so well that he already has 58 PGA TOUR titles, fifth most in history. So he subdues his inner child.

His peers marvel at his maturity.

"I think that's what we're all taught to do to a certain extent," Arron Oberholser said after a rare birdie at 18 lifted him at level par 210. "He just does it with such horrifying precision that the rest of us are made to fire at the flagsticks in cases where normally we wouldn't, and, therefore, we make mistakes."

Three-time major champion Ernie Els, who has long been flummoxed by Woods' indomitable persistence, thinks Woods' performance this week is reminiscent of his conservative crushing of the competition at last year's Open Championship at Royal Liverpool.

"He's figured it out now. I shouldn't say that; he's won 12 majors," Els observed. "But on courses like this, he's figured it out now where he's been very aggressive, and in the past, even with his 3-woods it's almost too aggressive on some of these holes out here. I think the way he played at Hoylake, he's learned a lot from himself there, being very disciplined and being -- what's the word? -- patient. Very patient off the tees and really not pushing it. I haven't seen him play this week, but I think he's doing very similar things this week."

Woods would agree, but only in that his philosophy is identical: Kill them with calmness.

"You play what the golf course gives you. And one thing I've learned about playing over the years is not to go against that," said Woods, who in 11 full professional seasons has had only three without a major victory -- and majors are his sole barometer for gauging success. "There are times when you do because you're trailing and you have to make a move on the back nine and you gotta go get it. ? (If) you understand what you can do and go out there and do it, more than likely you'll probably put yourself in position each and every time you play."

As a follow-up, it should be known that he does not get bored playing such a conservative brand of golf. "I focus on what I need to do, where I need to place it. How I need to get it there and go do it," he said.

And most important of all, of course, is that it is far from boring to have put himself firmly in the driver's seat in another major championship -- where the result, so far, has never veered from a stroll down victory lane.

"What do you think?," he said with his famous Cheshire cat grin stretching from ear to ear. "That is the exciting part."

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