Woods is 16-under par over his last 36 holes and is T-1 in total birdies over 54 holes with 20.
GRAND BLANC TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Tiger Woods drove on adjacent fairways twice on the back nine, hit a cup of beer in a spectator's hand, got rattled by a bug and was relegated to shaping some shots around trees and under branches.
He still managed to shoot a 7-under 65 on Saturday in the third round of the Buick Open, giving him a 17-under 199 total and a one-stroke lead when Michael Letzig (68) double bogeyed the last hole.
"The whole idea of the game is put the ball in the hole, and I did that," Woods said. "But as far as controlling my ball, I didn't do that."
Woods opened his first tournament since missing the cut at the British Open with a 71 after what he said was probably his worst putting day.
When he was eight shots behind first-round leader Steve Lowery, Woods said he couldn't make up ground in one day at Warwick Hills.
It took him two.
Woods roared back into contention with a 9-under 63 in the second round and took the lead with his 65 Saturday.
"Eight back, at a U.S. Open, you can make that up in one round," he said. "You can't make it up around here."
He moved into a tie for the lead with Letzig at 17 under with a 33-foot birdie putt at No. 17.
Woods pumped his fist, shouted "Yeah!" and the traditionally rowdy gallery roared so loud he couldn't communicate with caddie Steve Williams.
"It was pretty exciting," said Woods, making his ninth Buick Open appearance. "The people here have been absolutely incredible, so supportive of this event over the years. That's one of the reasons why we love coming here."
Letzig hit a poor shot out of a greenside bunker at No. 18, barely clearing it and leaving him with a tricky lie. He fell to 16 under while Woods was on the practice range.
"I don't care," Letzig said when asked if it would be tough to forget what happened on the last hole. "I'm one shot out of the lead."
Based on history, that's probably an insurmountable deficit behind Woods.
The superstar has a 35-1 record on the PGA Tour when he has the outright lead after 54 holes. The lone loss in this situation came when he was 20 in his third tournament as a pro to Ed Fiori in the 1996 Quad City Classic.
Woods and Letzig will be in the final group on Sunday just as they were at the Memorial in June, when Woods went on to win and Letzig's 75 plummeted him to a tie for 14th.
"I won't be so scared, I'll know what to expect," Letzig insisted. "I'm playing good, that's the bottom line."
If Woods wins Sunday, it would be his third Buick Open title and 69th on the PGA Tour.
Letzig, meanwhile, is hoping to win for the first time in his 50th PGA Tour event. He's coming off his first top-10 finish this year. His best showing in two seasons was a tie for second at the Ginn sur Mer Classic.
Woods has won every other tournament in his last four starts.
He missed the cut at the British Open two weeks ago after winning the AT&T National, tying for sixth at the U.S. Open and winning the Memorial. His first victory this season was the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his third tournament following an eight-month absence recovering from reconstructive surgery on his left knee.
Woods was nearly flawless in the second round at the Buick Open, then made enough clutch shots to make up for many poor ones in the third.
Woods three-putted from 55 feet on the par-5 first. He was still muttering and shaking his head about the missed opportunity on the second fairway as slammed his 3-wood into his bag and starting eating a peanut butter, jelly and banana sandwich.
At No. 5, he stepped out of his stance and kicked a bug that he later acknowledged led to him losing his concentration and sailing his tee shot to the right 237 yards away from the pin.
"I didn't refocus on the shot," Woods said. "I just got away with it."
Woods cut a shot around one tree, over a towering one and reached the green to set up a two-putt from 53 feet for a birdie.
At No. 7, he pulled out his driver that stayed in his bag for much of the day and the tee shot caromed off a cup of beer that was in a fan's hands and led to some friendly banter.
Woods hit his second shot under some tree branches and it finally landed about 300 yards away. A fantastic save out of sand set him up for another birdie.
While Woods was pleased with his results, he wasn't proud of the way he had to scramble on one of the easier courses on the PGA Tour.
"You're not supposed to be doing that," he said. "This golf course is pretty short. You have to take advantage and I did, but unfortunately, I didn't do it the correct way."