He's only two shots ahead of Jose Maria Olazabal after shooting 71.
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) -- Tiger Woods reached into the prickly gorse twice to retrieve his ball and take a penalty. He hung his head when a flop shot sailed from one end of the 16th green to the other. He dropped to his knees and flipped his putter like a baton.
The most emotion he showed Saturday at the British Open was for a putt that fell for par.
A windswept day at St. Andrews turned into a struggle for Woods, bringing an elite list of major champions and even Scottish hero Colin Montgomerie into the picture.
The only reward for Woods was all that mattered -- his name atop the leaderboard.
"To have the lead all day and end up with the lead, it's pretty sweet," he said.
Had to work hard
He had to work hard for that, saving par with a 15-footer on the Road Hole, then rolling a 150-foot putt across the 18th green to within a foot of the cup for a birdie that enabled him to beat par on the Old Course.
He shot 1-under 71, giving him a two-shot lead over two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal.
Woods failed to turn this into a runaway, as he did five years ago at St. Andrews when he built a six-shot lead going into the last day, but he didn't lose his grip on his bid for a 10th major championship. He is 31-3 when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead, including a 9-0 record in the majors.
And on a day when the cheers were for everyone else, Woods is still the man to beat at 12-under 204.
"I know, as well as everyone else knows in this field, that Tiger has probably had his hiccup today," Montgomerie said. "And he got around under par."
Everyone else did much better.
Olazabal, last seen waving his arm like a matador after an unlikely eagle late Friday afternoon, was back to his old short-game tricks by holing another eagle putt on the 12th and shooting a 4-under 68 to finish at 206, putting him in the final group with Woods.
Two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen took advantage of his early start by making eight birdies in his round of 66 and finishing just as the wind was starting to whip the flags. He wound up at 9-under 207 and will play in the second-to-last group with Montgomerie, who made a 30-foot birdie on the final hole for a 70.
Asked the last time he beat Woods head-to-head in a major, Montgomerie replied with a smirk, "Not many have."
"I don't think I have, no," he said. "If you have 150 players up here, they'll give you the same answer."
But not on Saturday.
Goosen was walking down the 16th fairway as Woods teed off on No. 3 and saw that the world's No. 1 player had already made bogey.
"The game's on a little bit now," Goosen said. "It's not easy out there, some holes. You can make mistakes quickly."
In the hunt
Sergio Garcia (69) and Brad Faxon (70) were at 208, while U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell (68) and three-time major champion Vijay Singh (71) were another shot behind.
The last time Montgomerie played in the final group at a major with Woods seems like a lifetime ago. It was the third round of the 1997 Masters, and Woods put on a clinic with a 65 that sent him to a 12-shot victory and kicked off his remarkable career.
This time, Monty held his own.
"I gained one shot today, and I've got to gain another three at least tomorrow," he said. "I've got an opportunity here to win a major, and I can't afford to leave any putt short."
Montgomerie surely saw a different player than the 21-year-old at Augusta National.
Woods already had lost one shot when his drive on No. 6 rode the wind so far to the right that caddie Steve Williams retrieved another ball from the bag before the tee shot even landed. Marshals found the ball, although it was buried in the prickly plant and Woods had to take a penalty drop.
Then came the 352-yard ninth, which played downwind. Woods hit 3-wood that was headed toward the flag until it turned enough to the left that it caught another gorse bush. Montgomerie smacked his drive on the green, and he could feel the momentum swinging.
Instead of staring at the tips of his feet, the Scot stood tall and proud. He made birdie to cut another shot off the lead, then dropped his approach into 5 feet on the 10th as the grandstand burst into cheers.
"Nice putt, Monty," Woods told him, treating the moment like a Saturday afternoon match at the club.
Woods knew this was going to be a grind, however. It showed on his face. He stared anxiously at each approach that raced past the flag as the greens got harder and faster in the wind and late afternoon sun.
He nearly lost the lead over the final three holes.
Struggled on 16
From behind the 16th green, he tried a flop shot up the slope and knew he hit it too hard when it left his club. The ball landed beyond the hole and dropped down into another swale. Woods had to make a 6-footer just to save bogey.
Up ahead, Olazabal birdied the 18th to cut the lead to one shot, and Woods promptly hit 2-iron into grass up to his knees along the left side of the 17th fairway. He did well to leave his approach short of the bunker fronting the green, and ran a putt some 15 feet by the hole.
He slung the ball at his caddie, frustrated at the thought of losing another shot.
"I worked so hard all day to get back to under par," Woods said. "If I missed that putt, I would go back to over par. I just couldn't see that happening."
He delivered a roundhouse fist pump when it dropped for par, and his birdie on the final hole gave him one extra shot between him and Olazabal for a final round that figures to require more work than he wanted.
"It's a seven-mile walk tomorrow, and he's obviously the favorite, as he started the tournament," Montgomerie said. "He copes with the pressure and the situation around him, being Tiger Woods, incredibly well. And if he does win this again, it's an amazing effort."
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