Woods back in hunt

Tiger Woods watches his approach shot to the 18th green during the third round of the U.S. Open golf tournament Saturday at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif. <br><i>AP?photo</i>

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - Prime time brings out the best in Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open.

Nine shots out of the lead after a pair of sloppy bogeys early in his round, Woods came to life Saturday at Pebble Beach with some clutch putts and extraordinary shots that had been missing since his return to golf two months ago.

He birdied his last three holes for a 5-under 66 - his best round of the year - that put him at 1-under 212 through 54 holes and smack into contention going into the final round.

The old Tiger showed up on the 18th hole.

Blocked behind a pair of cypress trees, some 265 yards from the flag into an ocean breeze, Woods hit a 3-wood toward the Pacific and urged it on toward the green. "C'mon! C'mon!" he screamed at it, and followed that with a "Yes!" when it stopped 15 feet away.

"It's been a while," Woods said. "I hadn't played good enough for anyone to cheer anything. So it was nice to actually put it together on the back nine and put myself right back in the championship."

Dustin Johnson, a two-time Pebble winner put on a powerful display to take a three-stroke lead.

Graeme McDowell birdied his first two holes and made the turn at 5-under with a 4-foot birdie on the ninth. No one else was under par.

Phil Mickelson, who started the final round two shots behind, was 3 over for the round and seven shots out of the lead as he made his way along the back nine. Ernie Els and Gregory Havret of France were at even par.

Woods' goal was to get back to even, and he did one better. He had to wait a few hours to find out where it would leave him at the end of a third round that already was shaping up to be a wild one.

The USGA pushed back the starting times so the third round could be broadcast in prime time on the East Coast, just like two years ago at Torrey Pines. Woods delivered quite a show that day by turning a five-shot deficit into a one-shot lead.

Whatever the deficit by the end of the day, he won't have as many players to get past on Sunday in going for a 15th major.

Woods was even for the day through nine holes when he began his charge - quietly at first with birdies on the 11th and 13th, then with a burst that set off cheers that could be heard across the Monterey Peninsula.

"As I said this week, it was a process," he said. "And I was building. And it was close. Today, I hit shots the way I know I can hit shots."

McDowell quickly built a four-shot lead with birdies on the opening two holes as Mickelson went the other direction, with a three-putt bogey on the opening hole and a chip that he hit 15 feet by the hole on the second.

The course was set up to encourage some risky shots, with the tees moved forward on the third and fourth holes. That made the fourth hole play only 284 yards to the flag, up the slope with tail wind.

That's where Johnson made his move.

He hit a 3-iron on the fourth hole, leaning to his right with hopes that would keep his ball out of the bunker, and it caught enough of the slope to roll to within 4 feet for an eagle. Two holes later, he hit a long iron up the 35-foot hill on the par-5 sixth that scoot past the hole to the back edge of the green for a chip-and-putt birdie.

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