The first meeting this year between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els was hardly the showdown everyone anticipated.
As usual, Woods was the only show at the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando.
Dominant in every phase of the game, Woods left his top rival and everyone else in his wake with a 6-under-par 66 that gave him a five-stroke lead and virtually ensured him another place in the record books.
Woods, who has never lost a PGA Tour event when leading by more than one stroke going into the final round, was 18 holes away from becoming the first player in more than 70 years to win the same tournament four straight years.
Woods was at 15-under 201, and a 54-hole lead of any margin is a huge advantage for him. He is 27-2 when he has at least a share of the lead entering the final round.
"He's still the man," Els said after a 72 that left him 10 strokes behind. "He loves playing with me, I can promise you that."
Woods sensed a high level of energy in the crowd, but he wasn't concerned with his playing partners, or even a fourth straight Bay Hill title.
"I knew I had to take care of business today and set myself up for tomorrow," he said.
Brad Faxon, who also played in the final group with Woods at Torrey Pines, had only two pars over his final 12 holes in a round of 65 that left him at 10-under 206.
Asked what was a reasonable deficit to make up on Woods, Faxon smiled and said, "How about him four strokes behind?"
Woods can become the first player to win the same event four straight times since Gene Sarazen in the Miami Open from 1926 to 1930. The Miami Open wasn't played in 1927, when it switched from a fall to a spring date.
Els, the No. 2 player in the world who already has won four times this year, was in the final group with Woods yesterday, albeit four strokes behind.
Any chance of mounting a charge vanished when his tee shot went into the lake on No. 6.
"That really set me back," Els said.
Stewart Cink, who also played in the final group, got within two strokes of Woods until a bogey on No. 8. He closed with 10 straight pars for a 70 and was at 208.
* LPGA: Annika Sorenstam's new year is already starting to look a lot like her old one.
In relentless pursuit of her first win of the season, Sorenstam shot a 7-under 65 to separate herself from some would-be rivals. Sorenstam took a two-stroke lead into the final round of the Safeway Ping tournament in Phoenix.
The most dominant player in women's golf, winning 11 tournaments last year, Sorenstam birdied three of her first four holes and nine overall to get to 18 under through three rounds at the Moon Valley Country Club.
"All the pieces are really falling together," Sorenstam said. "I'm where I want to be and my game's where I want it to be."
Sorenstam, who has improved by one shot each day, was two strokes ahead of ebullient Frenchwoman Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, one of her playing partners.
Two more strokes back at 15 under were Karrie Webb, Se Ri Pak and Grace Park.
Sorenstam started the day in a four-way tie with Webb, Pak and Meunier-Lebouc, none of whom had much hope Sorenstam would blow a third-round lead this year like she did in 2002 in the same tournament.
"I have to shoot in the low sixties tomorrow to have a chance," Webb said. "She's not making any mistakes."
* CHAMPIONS TOUR: Australia's Rodger Davis shot a 7-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead over Jim Ahern into the final round of the Toshiba Senior Classic in Newport Beach, Calif. Davis had a tournament-record 13-under 129 total on the Newport Beach Country Club course, breaking the mark of 130 set by Terry Mauney in 2001.