Tiger Woods found a worthy adversary in Graeme McDowell yet strengthened his hopes of sealing a seventh WGC - Cadillac Championship crown with a display of relentless excellence at Trump Doral in Miami.
Woods headed into the third day two shots ahead of McDowell, and the final pairing duly delivered a fine battle that made for compelling viewing.
The front nine, in particular, saw action more reminiscent of a matchplay contest as they traded blows outstandingly. It appeared that would be merely a pre-amble to Woods pulling away when McDowell, having been bogey free two and a half rounds, dropped three shots in the space of four holes.
Yet he came roaring back with a spectacular eagle on the par four 16th and eventually ended four shots adrift of Woods, who is chasing a 17th WGC title and second on the Blue Monster course.
“It was a good battle today,” said Woods. “Graeme played well. He just had a couple mistakes there. But he holed out on 16, which was a big turnaround.”
The winds that are a hallmark of the Miami resort are expected to appear with a vengeance tomorrow. That, combined with the increasingly fast greens on a course that will be completely revamped after this event, could make the final round even more interesting.
“I think it's important to be playing well especially if the wind is going to blow like it is,” added Woods. “I am excited about the way I’m playing, hitting the ball well, making some putts, but this golf course is getting tricky.
“The greens are so hard, so fast; downhill putts are just unbelievable. The ball just never stops rolling. It's sliding out there a little bit, and I had a couple putts that I thought I made, the wind blew the ball out of the hole and it's going to do that same thing tomorrow, if not more difficult.
“We'll see how much water they put on the golf course overnight; if they want to push us, then they can, because they are going to be blowing it up on Monday, so they could.”
A high standard was in evidence immediately on the par five first as brilliant approaches left both with eagle chances; McDowell found the centre of the cup, while Woods settled for birdie as his effort came up short.
The fourteen time Major Champion delivered the perfect response on the next, however, as a wedge shot stopped inches shy of the hole to set up a birdie when McDowell could only manage par.
Yet, after birdies were traded at the next, it was McDowell who began to strike the decisive blows, picking up a shot on six following his partner’s failure to sink a second successive 15 foot par save on the previous hole.
Scores were subsequently level, though that merely heralded further brilliance from Woods - who recovered from a poor tee shot to set up a two-foot birdie putt with a glorious wedge on the par five eighth, in the process moving one ahead.
Woods began to pull away during a short passage just after the turn as McDowell - having holed 32 putts from 32 inside five feet in the event - missed two in a row within that distance to give his rival a three shot lead.
The first meant the 2010 US Open Championship winner settled for par when Woods had birdied and the second ensured his bogey free streak ended at 46 holes, now McDowell’s personal record on the PGA Tour.
His torrid run continued with a double-bogey on 14, and Woods took his advantage to five shots with a birdie on 15.
However, McDowell was unwilling to give in and, following a stunning drive that just ran through the green, became the first player this week to eagle 16 via a beautiful chip.
The lead was then reduced to three at the next, with Woods unfortunate to drop one; his errant tee shot stuck in the tree, culminating in a bogey when his nearest challenger parred.
Perhaps predictably, the 37 year old had the final say on an enthralling day, sinking a 15 footer for birdie to complete a 67 and move 18 under.
McDowell said: “I played as good as I could the first ten holes. I left a lot of putts out there, though. I made some nice ones and I missed some makeable ones, and you know, Tiger played fantastic. He was very solid, very under control, putted great.
“It was a lot of fun out there, certainly for the first ten holes. Like I say, I lost my way a little bit for four or five holes, and he was pretty impressive. But it was a lot of fun to be out there with one of the best players in the world and getting a chance to tussle with him again tomorrow.”
While McDowell will lead the chasing pack, Woods could also come under pressure from a host of big names tomorrow.
Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker, following 69 apiece, finished 13 under, while Sergio Garcia and Charl Schwartzel were two shots further back.
The former produced the day’s joint-best round of 67, which no doubt left him rueing yesterday’s disappointing 72, while the latter managed 69, albeit with several shots left on the course.