HOYLAKE, England – His 3-foot birdie putt safely in the hole, Tiger Woods was right where he wanted to be Saturday in the British Open.
His name was atop the leaderboard after three rounds at Royal Liverpool.
And everyone knows the world's No. 1 player has never lost a 54-hole lead in a major championship.
But if Woods had bothered to look at the flags of 34 countries rippling in the gentle breeze above the grandstands on the 18th hole, he might have noticed that none of them was white.
Sergio Garcia wasn't about to surrender, not after a 65 that brought him within one shot of Woods and gave him a spot in the final pairing with a guy he has been chasing for seven years.
Ernie Els played his worst golf of the week while playing with Woods and held his own with a 71, also leaving him one shot behind. He was joined by Chris DiMarco, who shot 68 and then bristled when reminded of Woods' 10-0 record with the lead going into the final round of a major.
"Stats don't lie. Obviously, he's a pretty good front-runner, and usually he's got a five- or six-shot lead," DiMarco said. "Tomorrow, he has a one-shot lead. You would have thought he'd be 4 or 5 under right now, and he's not.
"But the guy has a knack for winning, so it's going to be tough to beat him."
Woods made it tougher on himself by struggling on the greens, three-putting three times over the final eight holes to keep himself from turning this British Open into another runaway. He had to birdie the 18th for a 71 to get into the final pairing and build the slimmest of leads.
And he knew it.
"Just take away my three-putts, I would have a four-shot lead," Woods said.
Instead, he was at 13-under 203 and will be in the final group with Garcia, a 26-year-old Spaniard who now has his best chance ever to capture a major.
Garcia holed out a 9-iron from 167 yards for eagle on No. 2, took only 29 shots on the outward nine and never faded. It will be his first time in the final group of a major since he was four shots behind Woods in the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
"I did what I had to do to give myself a chance," Garcia said.
Everyone else did just enough to turn this British Open into a wide-open affair.
DiMarco, his fiery emotion replaced by quiet peace as he copes with the July 4 death of his mother, overcame consecutive bogeys at the turn by making three straight birdies. DiMarco, who lost a playoff to Woods at the 2005 Masters, had a chance to join him in the lead until his fairway metal to the 18th green got stuck behind a pot bunker, forcing him to play away from the flag.
"Obviously, you want to beat the best player in the world," DiMarco said. "But there are five or six guys right there that are going to be trying to do the same thing I'm doing."
One of them is the Big Easy.
Els, in the final pairing with Woods at a major for the first time in six years, struggled with his irons but refused to allow himself to fall too far behind. He picked up birdies on the par-5 16th and 18th holes, leaving him in the three-way tie for second at 204.
Another shot back at 11-under 205 was former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (66) and Angel Cabrera, who also shot 66 and left the gallery wondering if there was something in the tea at Hoylake that suited Argentines.
The last time the British Open came to this links course was in 1967, when Robert De Vicenzo of Argentina held off Jack Nicklaus.
Cabrera has not seen De Vicenzo in several years, and really wasn't interested in the peculiar link between his country and Royal Liverpool.
"I'm not really thinking about history, I'm thinking about Cabrera," he said.
And what does he think about Cabrera?
"That I can win the tournament," he replied with a grin.
Everyone must feel they can get their names inscribed on the silver claret jug Sunday afternoon, thanks to a pedestrian performance by Woods with the very club that had served him so well the first two days.
"I know I'm in the last group. And I've got a one-shot lead," Woods said. "And hopefully, tomorrow I can play like the way I did today and just putt a little better."
The dry conditions have left splotches of brown on the greens, and Woods struggled to find the right speed on his putts.
It started on the par-5 10th, when Woods gave himself a 25-foot eagle putt. He ran it about 3 1/2 feet by, and pulled the next one, gritting his teeth as he headed to the next tee. He answered with a birdie from 18 feet on No. 11 to build a two-shot lead, and it looked like it might get larger when his 20-foot birdie on the 14th caught the edge of the cup.
But it spun out and trickled 4 feet by, and Woods again missed the hole on his par putt.
He lost the lead again on the 17th when his 40-foot putt from the back of the green came up 6 feet short.
"You really had to watch your pace, because obviously every green is just a slightly different speed," he said.
Garcia had a few problems of his own, missing a 6-foot birdie on the 17th that might have sent him to a course record. He had another birdie putt from the same distance on No. 11 that he left short.
"They're getting quite crispy and quite brown, and it's tough to get the speed right all of the time," he said.
But he had few complaints.
Garcia first came into Woods' view at the 1999 PGA Championship, when he was 19 and ready to conquer the world. He gouged that 6-iron out of the base of the tree and chased it up the fairway, a brilliant display of enthusiasm and shotmaking that came up one shot short of Woods that day.
He's still running after him.
Their relationship is icy at best, with Woods becoming irritated six years ago at the Monday night "Battle at Bighorn" exhibition, when Garcia beat him on the last hole and celebrated as if he had won a major.
The last time they played in the final group was the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines earlier this year. Woods started one shot behind Garcia and Rod Pampling and went on to win in a playoff as Garcia stumbled to a 75.
"It will be fun for both of us to go out there and try to win the Open championship," Woods said. "There are a bunch of guys up there at the top of the board, and we've got to go out there and play well ourselves."
Els could easily have fallen away, especially on No. 7. He hit driver off the tee and into a gorse bush, having to take a penalty drop. Then, he hit into a pot bunker near the sodden wall. He blasted out to 15 feet and escaped with bogey, and limited the damage until he found his swing again.
He will play with Furyk in the pairing ahead of Woods-Garcia, very much in range of a fourth major.
"We're still in contention, it's a major championship," Els said. "A lot can happen tomorrow."