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Woods takes three-shot lead into final round at Tour Championship

ATLANTA — Tiger Woods made it look and sound as if he had never been gone.

More than turning back time, every hole seemed like the one before Saturday at the Tour Championship. A tee shot striped down the middle of the fairway. The clean strike of an iron as he held his pose. A sonic boom of the cheers from around the green. Another birdie.

“I got off to an ideal start,” Woods said. “And the next thing you know, I was off and running.”

With the most dynamic golf he has played all year, Woods built a five-shot lead in seven holes before he cooled from there, settled for a 5-under 65 that gave him a three-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose and an ideal chance to end this comeback season with a moment that has defined his career.

Winning.

Woods has the 54-hole lead for the first time since his last victory in 2013 at the Bridgestone Invitational. He has never lost an official tournament when leading by more than two shots going into the final round, and his closing record with the lead is 42-2 on the PGA Tour.

He has never been in better position to show he’s all the way back from four back surgeries that once made him fear he might never play again.

“I’ve gone through a lot this year to get myself to this point, and understanding and fighting my way through it,” Woods said.

“I’m certainly much more equipped than I was in March because of what I’ve gone through.”

Wood was at 12-under 198 and will be paired with McIlroy for the first time in the final group on the PGA Tour.

McIlroy birdied two of his last three holes for a 66.

“It’s obviously exciting for the golf tournament. It’s exciting for golf in general that he’s up there,” McIlroy said. “But for me, all I can do is concentrate on myself. The game is hard enough without looking at other people. Go out there, take care of my business, and hopefully that’s good enough.”

Rose started the round tied with Woods, but not for long.

Rose opened with two straight bogeys before battling back, but the world’s No. 1 player already was four shots behind after four holes. He narrowed the gap with a birdie on the 16th as Woods had to scramble for bogey, a two-shot swing.

“In some ways, it felt like a Sunday just with the energy,” Rose said after a 68. “But I knew that it was halfway through a Saturday. Just wanted to sort of chisel a few back and give myself a chance going into tomorrow.”

Woods’ start was simply mesmerizing.

He poured in a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole. His wedge settled 8 feet below the hole on No. 3. His 20-foot birdie putt on No. 4 tumbled into the center of the cup with perfect pace. Two short birdies followed. And when he finally missed a fairway at No. 7, Woods hit a 9-iron from the bunker that hopped out of the first cut to about 5 feet for a sixth birdie in seven holes.

The cheers were endless, and there was no doubting what was going on.

“I’ve heard the roars all day, and it’s been phenomenal,” Paul Casey said after his 66. “What an atmosphere it is out there this week.”

Woods, however, made only one birdie over his last 11 holes, a wedge to 7 feet on No. 12. He missed badly on his tee shot at the par-3 ninth, and the shaggy rough to the right of the 16th fairway caused the face of his club to open, missing to the right. His flop shot didn’t get up the hill and rolled back toward him, and his next pitch was a bump-and-run played to perfection that kept him from another double bogey.

“Simple math says that if I play a clean card, the guys behind me have to shoot 67 to force it into extra holes,” Woods said. “That helps. I don’t have to shoot 63 or 64 and hope I get help. This is a spot I’d much rather be in than four or five back.”

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PRO GOLF

PGA Tour Championship

Saturday’s Third Round

At East Lake Golf Club; Atlanta

Tiger Woods 65-68-65–198 -12

Rory McIlroy 67-68-66–201 -9

Justin Rose 66-67-68–201 -9

Kyle Stanley 69-68-67–204 -6

Jon Rahm 68-68-68–204 -6

Paul Casey 68-71-66–205 -5

Tony Finau 67-71-67–205 -5

Billy Horschel 71-65-69–205 -5

Aaron Wise 70-69-67–206 -4

Dustin Johnson 69-70-67–206 -4

Gary Woodland 66-72-68–206 -4

Xander Schauffele 68-70-68–206 -4

Justin Thomas 67-69-70–206 -4

Webb Simpson 69-70-68–207 -3

Tommy Fleetwood 69-69-70–208 -2

Hideki Matsuyama 72-66-71–209 -1

Marc Leishman 73-69-68–210 E

Patton Kizzire 71-71-68–210 E

Jason Day 68-73-69–210 E

Rickie Fowler 65-72-73–210 E

Bryson DeChambeau 71-75-66–212 +2

Cameron Smith 70-73-69–212 +2

Kevin Na 72-68-72–212 +2

Patrick Cantlay 71-65-76–212 +2

Brooks Koepka 69-78-67–214 +4

Francesco Molinari 70-75-69–214 +4

Keegan Bradley 73-73-69–215 +5

Bubba Watson 70-72-73–215 +5

Patrick Reed 72-74-72–218 +8

Phil Mickelson 73-72-76–221 +11

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Champions Tour

Sanford International

Saturday’s Second-Round Leaders

At Minnehaha Country Club; Sioux Falls, S.D.

Brandt Jobe 63-67–130 -10

Steve Stricker 63-67–130 -10

Jerry Smith 63-68–131 -9

Scott McCarron 64-68–132 -8

Woody Austin 69-64–133 -7

Wes Short, Jr. 66-67–133 -7

Olin Browne 68-66–134 -6

Tom Gillis 68-66–134 -6

Kirk Triplett 66-68–134 -6

Paul Goydos 64-70–134 -6

Mike Goodes 65-69–134 -6

Lee Janzen 64-70–134 -6

Doug Garwood 67-68–135 -5

Kevin Sutherland 65-70–135 -5

Tim Petrovic 68-68–136 -4

Scott Parel 66-70–136 -4

Rocco Mediate 66-70–136 -4

Duffy Waldorf 66-70–136 -4

Bob Estes 65-71–136 -4

Jesper Parnevik 68-69–137 -3

Esteban Toledo 68-69–137 -3

Ken Tanigawa 67-70–137 -3

Stephen Ames 69-68–137 -3

Tom Pernice Jr. 67-70–137 -3

Steve Jones 67-70–137 -3