Woods cruising toward title at American Express

Sep 30, 2006 - 6:41 PM HERTFORDSHIRE, England (Ticker) - Tiger Woods continues to have a flair for the dramatic at the American Express Championship.

Woods made eagle at the 18th hole for the third consecutive day and extended his lead to six shots after Saturday's third round of the WGC event at The Grove.

There have been six eagles at the closing hole all week, half of them by Woods. The world's top-ranked player is on course to cruise to his sixth straight stroke-play victory after a 4-under-par 67.

Woods, whose last defeat in stroke play was July 9 when he finished second to Trevor Immelman at the Western Open, drained a 35-footer for eagle on 18 to get to 19-under 194 despite hitting his drive in the left rough.

Australian Adam Scott is second at 13-under 200 after a 56, the best round of the day. Jim Furyk and Brett Quigley are tied for third, a stroke further back.

As for the European contingent, David Howell, Henrik Stenson and Ian Poulter are nine shots back in a tie for sixth at 203.

The task facing the chasing pack is monumental. In his 10-year career, Woods has held the lead with a round to go on 50 occasions and failed to win just five times.

Woods never lost more than a two-shot advantage and has not lost the outright lead since Thomas Bjorn beat him in the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic.

A wictory would be Woods' 10th in 15 WGC stroke-play events and his ninth of the year overall.

Even before Woods had finished the way he did, Scott knew he had a tough road ahead.

"He's a tough guy to chase down, that's just proven. The guy is such a good front-runner, he gets so focused," Scott said. "We've seen this year how good he finishes out tournaments and shuts the field out on Sunday. We're all up against it, that's for sure.

"You've got to do better the first two days, really. I'm sure he'd love someone to give him a challenge because at the moment he slips into fifth gear and no one even gets close to him."

Woods has what seems to be an insurmountable lead and it could have been even bigger if he had found his rhythm with the putter earlier. He missed birdie chances of seven and six feet on the opening two greens.

After failing with a nine-foot attempt on the sixth hole, it almost came as no surprise when he three-putted the eighth for his first bogey since the 17th hole of his first round.

That left him only two ahead of both Howell and Stewart Cink, who both went out in 33. Although Woods created further space with a 10-footer on the ninth, he missed another six-footer at No. 10.

Minutes earlier, Howell had found the cup from nearly 18 feet on the same green and when Cink birdied the next, the pair were just two back. But that was as close as Woods allowed anybody to get.

Howell bogeyed the 11th and Cink dropped shots at the 12th and 13th. When Woods' 188-yard approach over the water to the 12th pulled up just six feet from the flag, he was in total control again.

A pitch to two feet brought him another birdie at the long 16th. Then came his stunning finale on a 567-yard uphill hole which he has now played three times in a total of nine shots.

With Paul Casey languishing in 58th place, Howell probably needs a top-six finish to return to the top of the Order of Merit he had led from beating Woods in Shanghai last November until Casey won in the World Match Play two weeks ago.

Both each have just two more events - next week's Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland and the Volvo Masters at Valderrama in Spain.

The threat of bad weather forced organizers to start Sunday's final round at 9 a.m. local time off the first and 10th tees. The leaders will be the last out at 10:37 a.m. because of the threat of thunderstorms.

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