By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
DORAL, Fla. -- While everyone else might be ready to pass the torch for him, Tiger Woods isn't ready to let go of it.
He's too busy torching TPC Blue Monster instead.
Through the first three rounds of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, Woods has 24 birdies and a four-stroke lead.
The former is a personal best -- which ought to say something about how well Woods is hitting it right now given his resume -- while the latter means another victory is practically a formality.
Fifteen times Woods has led by three or more strokes going into the final round of a PGA TOUR event. Fifteen times he's gone on to win.
Three have those have come in this event with one of them coming here at TPC Blue Monster. Given how he's played so far there’s little reason to think he won't make it four.
Even history is on Woods' side -- the largest final-round comeback in this event is from three shots back.
Don't take my word for it, though. Ask the guy who played alongside Woods during Saturday's 67 and who will have another front-row seat (or backseat is perhaps more appropriate) on Sunday.
"He was very solid today, very impressive the way he controlled his golf ball," Graeme McDowell said, gushing and shrugging and searching for the right superlatives. "It wasnt like wow, it was just really solidly good and impressive."
Finally, he couldn't go on. His efforts were fruitless. "OK, that's enough of that,” he said with Woods waiting in the back. "It's kind of hard to answer these with him in the room."
And it's kind of hard to beat Woods when he is playing this well.
McDowell wasn't out here when Woods was winning everything in sight in the early and mid-2000s. But this is arguably as good as it has been since those halcyon days.
Saturday's round started with three straight birdies, and it ended with a seventh when Woods poured in a 16-footer on the toughest hole on the golf course.
Moments earlier, McDowell had two-putted from 85 feet, carefully tossing his ball high enough on the left-to-right downhill slope to get it to settle next to the hole for an important par.
"It was a hell of a putt," Woods said.
And Woods responded with a hell of an answer.
One hole earlier, Woods had hit his tee shot into a palm tree. One problem: The ball never came out.
Woods took a drop, hit onto the green and two-putted for bogey.
The annoyance meter red-lined, Woods piped a 309-yard drive into the fairway on his next shot, which was followed by a pured iron into the final green to set up one last birdie after McDowell's long-distance lag.
"It was close at the end of the season last year," Woods said of his short-iron play, which has been every bit as good as his putting, or his driving, or his ball-striking this week. "I'm hitting the ball farther and it's just about adjustments. I haven't hit my irons this far, well, with the new ball, ever, so it's kind of nice to be able to get the ball out there. It's starting to pay off."
The numbers don't lie. Woods is seventh in greens in regulation and third in total putts with just 74.
Should he go on to win, this would be the fourth event on TOUR that he has won seven times. It would also give him 76 career wins, moving him to within six of all-time leader Sam Snead.
More importantly, it would also be his second win of the season and fifth in the last 12 months, which happens to be the same number world No. 1 Rory McIlroy has in that span.
McIlroy, by the way, is 15 shots back.
With a victory here, Woods would move closer to regaining the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking -- a position that has been occupied by McIlroy since last year.
A win here Sunday and another at Bay Hill in two weeks would assure it.
It would also assure that Woods is back to performing at the type of dominating level we haven't seen in a while.
Four times Woods has opened his season with wins at Torrey Pines and TPC Blue Monster. In those years, he went on to record six (2005), eight (2006) and seven (2007) victories.
As far as Woods is concerned, you don't even have to go back that far to find the last time he played as well as he has this week.
"Yeah, Torrey," Woods said with a smile, referring to his victory there in January. "It wasn't that long ago."