Even allowing for an uncharacteristic lapse at the 18th, Tiger Woods was staring down the barrel of a 15th World Golf Championships title – and his sixth Bridgestone Invitational – are Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
On a day when Firestone’s South Course gave a convincing impression of a US Open lay-out, only three players out of 82 starters finished under par, with Europe’s finest left more in hope than expectation going into the final day.
Woods, who drove into trees at the last and made bogey, still managed to post a one under par 69 got s three round total of 207, three under par, and one stroke behind South African Rory Sabbatini, who recovered from a double bogey start to shoot a 72.
The World Number One is attempting to complete a second hat-trick of victories at Firestone, having been successful in 1999, 2000 and 2001 and again in 2005 and 2006. Victory over a course where he feels are comfortable as sitting in his own living room would bring Woods’ WGC earnings to an unprecedented $19,190,830.
As many around him fell by the wayside, Woods tackled the formidable Firestone course with his customary relish, birdieing two holes on the outward half of 33 before a couple of mistakes, countered by a third birdie at the 11th, brought him home in 36.
Playing partner Lee Westwood, who began the day one shot behind Woods, struggled to a 79 for 218 while fellow Englishman Paul Casey saw his chances evaporate with a third round 76 for 216.
It was left to Justin Rose (71-212) and Open Champion Padraig Harrington (72 – 213) to carry the European flag while last week’s champion at the Deutsche Bank Players’ Championship of Europe, Andres Romero of Argentina, maintained his rich vein of form with a 69 to share fourth spot with six others on 211.
Rose knows he may have to emulate the achievement of fellow Englishman, Luke Donald, who used the less fiery early morning conditions to shoot a 67, a low round of the day matched only by Australian Aaron Baddeley.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to be worse than two over” said Rose, who was frustrated with a double bogey at the 13th and another spilled shot at the last. “If I had finished around level par I would feel I’ve feel got a chance, but it’s going to be difficult now.”
Harrington set off like an Olympic sprinter, birdieing the first, third and fifth to get to two under par and close to the lead. However consecutive three putts at the sixth and seventh cost him a double bogey and a bogey to derail his bid for the lead.
The Irishman completed the outward and inward halves with further bogeys for a round of 72 which leaves him in a tie for 14th place, seven behind the feisty South African, Sabbatini.
Harrington admitted: “I had chances at the first five holes and made three of them. Everything was looking good, but then I lost my focus and had a careless three putt on the sixth and another three putts at the next. That kind of put me on the back foot for the rest of the day.
“I think I needed three or four under today, but there are only three players under par and there is no doubt you don’t have to do much wrong to shoot 71 or 72 here. It’s going to be a struggle but I will try to shoot the best score I can tomorrow and not worry too much about what everyone else is doing.”
Woods’ serene progress was only halted but that wayward tee shot on the 18th but he said: “I'm looking forward to it. I felt like I hit the ball pretty good today given the conditions. I basically ground my way around the golf course. I left a bunch of putts short but overall I felt I kept myself right there in the tournament. I felt that anything in the 60s today was going to be a good score. You look at the leaderboard - not a whole lot of guys really took it low today.”
Sabbatini played the last nine holes without a blemish to cling onto the lead he shared at halfway with Masters Champion, Zach Johnson, who came unstuck around the turn with a quadruple bogey at the ninth and a double bogey at the tenth.
"I hope tomorrow is a good battle - and a victorious one" said Sabbatini, adding: "I figure that if I tie Tiger, or beat him, then I will win the golf tournament. That's the way I'm looking at it."
The possibility of inclement weather has resulted in two tees being used in the final round with the players teeing off in three balls. The leaders start at 10.10am local time.