Defending champ Woods tightens hold

TULSA, Okla. - Blanked in the season's first three major championships, Tiger Woods maintained a firm grip on the last one Saturday at Southern Hills Country Club.

Hitting long irons and fairway woods off the tees of the tight, winding holes and following up with precise short irons into the tricky greens, the world's No. 1-ranked golfer and defending PGA champion made only one bogey and with 69, took a three-shot lead over Stephen Ames (69) at 7-under-par 203.

"I accomplished my goal today, which was to shoot under par and increase my lead," Woods said. "I was able to do that. There were a lot of positives all around."

The question is this: Can anyone come from behind to beat Woods in the final round of a major?

His record is both perfect and frightening to any potential contenders: Woods has won all 12 of his majors after teeing off in the final round with the lead, or share of the lead, and in all PGA Tour events, he is 39-3 as a Sunday closer.

"The statistics will tell you, yes, it is over," said Ernie Els, who is 1-under. "As a competitor, you can't ever think it's over. If I was not a golfer, a fan on the couch, I'd be putting my house on him."

The man who will have the best head start in trying to reverse Woods' trend as a closer put a brave face on what the day will bring.

"Tiger's looking for his 13th (major) ... I'm looking for my first," said Ames, who will be playing in the final pairing of a major for the first time in his career. "My game plan is to be conscious of what I'm doing and not to be conscious of what Tiger's doing."

The last time Ames got up close and personal with Woods was in the 2006 World Golf Championship Accenture Match Play. Woods won that match 9 and 8. He may still have a long enough memory to want to punish Ames more, but the challenge of winning his 13th major, which would tie him with Bobby Jones for second on the all-time career list, should be enough.

Reach Garry Smits at garry.smits@jacksonville.com.

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