Tiger Woods played a businesslike round on Saturday, threading his shots through trees, rolling his putts over mounds and waiting for a challenge to emerge.
He built his lead in the 89th PGA Championship to five shots, saw it trimmed down to three and prepared to welcome another foe into the final group of a major championship.
Woods fired a one-under-par 69 on Saturday, taking a three-shot lead over Stephen Ames (69) into yesterday's final round.
At seven-under-par 203, Woods led Woody Austin (69) by four shots, John Senden (69) by five and Ernie Els (69) by six shots.
A day after his record-tying 63 staked him to a two-shot lead over Scott Verplank (74), Woods bullied the field at a toasty Southern Hills, making two birdies and one bogey in a safe and mostly trouble-free round.
After an empty year in the majors, Woods may be on the verge of adding his first of the season and the 13th of his career. He is 12 for 12 when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major.
"To have a great year, you have to win a major championship," Woods said.
His closest pursuer is Ames, who two years ago at the Accenture Match Play Championship said Woods was vulnerable because of where his tee shots sometimes ended up.
Woods answered that response with a 9-and-8 victory against Ames in the first round.
Ames, who is seeking his first victory in a major, said he welcomed the challenge of playing in the final group with Woods, who is trying to win his fourth PGA Championship.
"I'm happy to be in this situation," said Ames, who hit seven of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation. "Tiger's looking for his 13th. I'm looking for my first. Five in front of him might not have been enough. He's a great front-runner. He's going to be tough to beat."
Last week at the Bridgestone Invitational, Woods took down Rory Sabbatini in a final-group showdown, three months after Sabbatini called Woods "as beatable as ever."
Through three rounds at Southern Hills, Woods has distanced himself from the field on a course that twists and turns. He made par on his first three holes, added a 2m birdie on No. 4 and a 3m birdie on No. 12.
Verplank, who lives in Edmond, Oklahoma, and attended Oklahoma State, could not keep pace. He made three birdies, five bogeys and a double bogey.
When he hit his ball in the long grass, he often had trouble hitting a crisp shot out. When his ball was nestled in the rough to the right on the par-5 fifth, he pulled his shot into more rough on the left, from where he made bogey.
When Verplank hit into the left rough on the par-4 12th, he pulled another shot deeper into the trees. His third shot stayed in the rough, too, and Verplank was on his way to a double bogey that, at the time, dropped him six shots behind Woods.
Ames, who has two PGA Tour victories compared to Woods' 58, has shown his mettle in tournaments in recent years. In 2004, he won the Western Open and last year he added the Players Championship crystal to his mantle.
"I play golf and I play my game," Ames said when asked what it would be like to stand on the same tee box with Woods again.