What used to be routine felt like a novelty to Tiger Woods.
After four straight birdies on his way to a 5-under-par 65 at East Lake, the former No. 1 player in the world was introduced yesterday as one of the 54-hole leaders in the Tour Championship in Atlanta.
Woods raised his cap in mock celebration, and for good reason.
It's been more than a year since he has been in this position.
"I think I've made steady progress," said Woods, who has only one victory this year and lost his No. 1 ranking to Vijay Singh. "This is just merely a continuation of it."
The final round shapes up as a battle of the ages.
Woods was tied with 50-year-old Jay Haas, who recovered from two early bogeys for a 68. They were at 9-under 201 and will be paired together today, two close friends born 22 years apart who haven't won in a while.
Of course, that should be kept in perspective.
Woods has gone 19 stroke-play tournaments without winning -- his longest drought since turning pro in 1996. Haas has gone 11 years and 276 tournaments since his last victory, the 1993 Texas Open.
"I definitely won't be the favorite tomorrow," Haas said. "But what he does shouldn't affect what I do."
Woods lost 36-hole leads in back-to-back weeks in May, the first sign that he no longer was the dominant force he used to be. That's what makes today such an interesting test.
Woods is ruthless with at least a share of the 54-hole lead, winning 30 of 32 times in that position. Putting together his best back-to-back rounds in four years only made him feel that much more confident.
"I'm going to give it my best," Woods said.
U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen, playing with Woods, also made four straight birdies and had the outright lead until he failed to save par from two bunkers on the back nine. He shot 69 and was four shots behind, along with Mike Weir (67) and Stephen Ames (70).
Singh's bid to finish the year with 10 victories -- the most since Sam Snead won 11 times in 1954 -- crashed with an indifferent round of 70 that left him 11 shots out of the lead.
"You've got to be in contention to be 100 percent into it," Singh said. "I'm just not into it."
* LPGA TOUR: Annika Sorenstam matched Laura Davies' LPGA Tour record for consecutive victories in a tournament, closing with a 7-under 65 for her fourth straight Mizuno Classic title today in Otsu, Japan.
Sorenstam won her seventh LPGA Tour title of the year and 55th overall, finishing at 22-under 194 for a nine-stroke victory over three players. She tied the tour record for consecutive victories in an event set by Davies in the Standard Register Ping from 1994 to 1997.
After opening with a 63 and shooting a 66 yesterday to take a four-stroke lead into the final round, Sorenstam opened an eight-shot advantage with an eagle and three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the front nine. She added two birdies on the back nine to complete 54 holes with only one bogey.