Tiger Woods was poised to win his first full tournament in over two years at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship on Sunday.
The fallen giant of the game was sharing the lead with world number 117 Robert Rock of England following a 66 on Saturday – his best score since the second round of The Masters last April.
It was at Augusta National that Woods sustained the leg injury that sidelined him for most of last year before he finally returned to the winners’ circle at the Chevron World Challenge in California in early December.
That, however, was only an 18-man invitation event that Woods himself organised for the benefit of his charitable foundation.
In Abu Dhabi at the fourth tournament of the European Tour season, it was the real deal with the top four players in the world starting their seasons and six out of the current top 10 taking part.
In three, improving rounds of 70, 69 and 66 for 11 under par for the tournament, Woods has so far given the surest signs yet that the swing he has painstakingly remodelled under new coach Sean Foley is finally in place.
A win here will remove a huge burden from his shoulders and lay the first stepping stone along a path he hopes will led to a 15th major title at The Masters in early April.
“This is a step in the right direction,” he said of his own form here over three rounds.
Doubly pleasing for Woods must be the early season dominance he has shown over the world’s top players assembled here.
World number one Luke Donald is a distant 11 strokes adrift, number two Lee Westwood not much better at seven back and number four Martin Kaymer misssed the cut altogether.
Only third ranked Rory McIlroy, who played with Woods over the first three days, has near matched him, going into the final day just two strokes back.
The 22-year-old Ulsterman has been seen by many as likely to be the next big dominant figure in the game since his eight-stroke victory in the US Open last June and he has played some superb golf in the Gulf.
Woods, for one, likes what he has seen.
“He’s so young, he’s only 22. He’s got a major championship behind him. You can see he is learning,” he said.
“He’s not afraid to try shots which is really cool to see and just a matter of time before he just gains more knowledge. He’s on the right track, you can see that.”
Sweden’s Peter Hanson, who is two strokes back will play in the final grouping with Woods and Rock, while three others on nine under – McIlroy, Scotland’s Paul Lawrie and Francesco Molinari of Italy are in the penultimate grouping.