The fist-pumping celebration came early, after a brilliant sand shot that rolled into the hole for his second eagle in seven holes. Tiger Woods was suddenly leading the British Open, and excited fans swarmed to get a glimpse of what was surely going to be a historic charge.
A birdie on the ninth hole gave Woods a 31 on the front nine, and he walked quickly through the cheering crowd to the 10th tee clearly in command.
A couple of bad bounces and one miserable drive later, though, Woods stumbled home with a 3-over-par back nine that did more than just spoil the moment for a lot of sun-baked British golf fans.
Now Woods enters Sunday's final round two shots back and needing to do something he has never done in his otherwise remarkable career -- come from behind over the last 18 holes to win a major championship.
"I've won eight a different way, so maybe I can win one this way," Woods said.
Don't inscribe his name on the claret jug quite yet.
Woods is in a mini-major slump of sorts and hasn't won one of golf's premier four events since last year's US Open. Two shots in front of him is Thomas Bjorn, who proved two years ago in Dubai that he can beat the world's best player in a showdown.
Around Woods is a gaggle of players who refused to fall off a leaderboard filled with names such as Davis Love III, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia and Kenny Perry. In all, 12 players are within four shots of the lead, and even Woods expects it to take awhile to sort them all out in the final round at Royal St. George's.
"You figure most of the guys are going to get off to pretty good starts," Woods said. "And it's probably going to weed itself out on the back nine. At least put yourself in position so you have a chance."
A chance for Woods is what some other players fear.
"I expect, like everybody else, that Tiger is going to go out and play his best game tomorrow and win this golf tournament," Bjorn said. "That's what he wants to do, and we all know when he's in that position he's very, very dangerous."
For a time on a day so unseasonably warm on the English Channel that spectators were shedding their shirts, it looked like Woods would do more than simply get in the mix.
He toyed with the longer holes that troubled so many other players, making eagles on the two front nine par-5s and nearly adding a third on the 14th hole.
But a 6-iron that bounced off the green on the 11th hole and a drive that kicked into the rough on the 17th hole cost him two bogeys. A drive he pulled into the deep rough on 15 also took a toll. After playing the front nine without a bogey, he made four coming in, allowing Bjorn and Love to pass him along the way.
"Overall I'm very pleased with the way I played today. You know you're going to get some quirky bounces on this golf course. Some of the bounces also went my way today," Woods said.
One came on the seventh hole, where Woods hacked out of the rough with his second shot into the right greenside bunker. The ball barely trickled in, forcing Woods to have to take a steep angle to avoid hitting the side of the bunker on his downswing. Woods was just trying to get the ball somewhere on the green where he could have a reasonable putt at birdie. He splashed the shot and the ball bounced twice before running about 15 feet straight into the hole.
Woods leaned back and raised both hands in the air in triumph, striding from the bunker pumping his right fist in celebration as the normally reserved crowd roared.