SAN DIEGO – High on a cliff over the Pacific Ocean, with the shadows growing long and his knee growing sore, Tiger Woods' 70th remarkable shot of the third round of the U.S. Open slid slowly in, setting off a seismic celebration.
Whether it was arthroscopy or exhaustion, Woods managed just a soft, sure fist pump in lieu of something worthy of what had just gone down – his second forty-plus foot eagle putt, to go with a chip-in birdie, in the final six holes here to give him a one shot lead for his 14th major Sunday.
At the end of what may go down as the most thrilling performance of a career paced by them, he just stood still and strong in the middle of the green, in the middle of it all, in the middle of this wild scene of fans hugging and crying and screaming at what they had witnessed.
Soon they were pushing against the barriers, trying to rush past security, just to stay near him, just to watch this golfing god limp off to a cart shack turned scorer's office, just to keep this Saturday evening for the ages alive for one more moment, one more memory.
Woods was the only one here who wasn't overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. Fans kept asking each other if this had all really happened. Long-time PGA employees mouthed "wow" to each other. Torrey Pines seemed to come undone all at once.
No less than Rocco Mediate, who is merely two shots back in third place, crashed Tiger's post-round news conference to ask, "Mr. Woods, Mr. Woods, are you completely out of your mind?"
And Mediate hadn't even seen much of it. One group back and the leader most of the day, he'd simply heard the repeated roars ripping through the canyons here, across fairways, from glen to glen and down the mountain side.
Then he'd get to the next hole, the one Woods just exited, and hear the rumors too incredible to believe.
Did Tiger really drain a 66-foot eagle from the back of the 13th green, one he himself described as a "bomb" that was so outrageous it set off a double fist pump? Had that really come after a monumental blast from the far rough to save a tee shot so errant it wound up in front of a concession stand but behind a TV tower?
Had Woods really banged home a birdie from deep in the 17th rough, a miracle one-hopper off the flag stick that Tiger thought would bounce so far past the hole he'd struggle to make a five?
"(I kept saying,) 'What the heck, what is he doing?' " laughed Mediate. "'What are you doing? Stop it.' "
Was it true that on the follow through of the approach on 18, Woods was so frozen in pain shooting up from where his left knee had been surgically repaired in April he couldn't look up to watch it land on the green, a forty-foot eagle putt waiting to be hit?
Had this injury really caused him throughout the round to walk with a limp, occasionally use a club as a cane and wonder on every follow through if this was the moment some cartilage would catch and agony would ensue?
"I just kept telling myself, if it grabs me and I get that shooting pain, I get it," Woods said. "But it's always after impact (with the ball). So go ahead and make the proper swing if I can."
Could this guy really possess the immense concentration to actually do that? Could he repeatedly swing as hard as possible, knowing the follow though could produce stab-wound level suffering?
That's not possible, is it?
"The stuff he does, it's unreal," Mediate said. "He's the best that's ever played."
The best that ever played put up another red round at the Open, despite that bum knee and a two-month layoff that turned his game upside down. He opened the day with a double bogey, hit just nine greens in regulation and found a meager six of 14 fairways.
"Just trying to get by," Woods smiled.
Tiger's played better rounds of golf, many of them. He may never play a more twisting, turning, gritty and glorious loop than this one. This wasn't Tiger the Machine – "just 17 pars and a birdie, right?" Woods laughed.
This was a champion showing his chops, finding patience amid the pain. He kept failing to do the simple; "I didn't hit the ball well today". Only to save it with the spectacular; "(After the chip in on 17) it was just like, 'You've got to be kidding me?' "
He wasn't kidding. He just kept coming. Maybe he couldn't believe some of these ridiculous shots either, but he at least was capable of dreaming them first.
Woods has owned Torrey Pines since he was a young amateur, trained by his father to be the greatest golfing champion of all-time. The day before Father's Day, he displayed a toughness, both physical and mental, that would have caused Earl Woods, the old Vietnam Green Beret, to swell with perhaps a new kind of pride.
He now enters a major Sunday with the lead, something that in 13 previous occurrences produced 13 victories.
"It's going to take a ridiculous round by one of us to beat him," Mediate admitted.
The only question this time will be the health of the knee, which Woods put on ice soon after the round.
With each step, with each limp, he'll be followed by his followers, the oversized throng that stood 10, 15 deep in places, unable to see a thing but caring not a bit. They pushed and preened and sometimes just stood and waited for the reaction to tell them the story.
No one could leave his side Saturday. No one could step away from history, from greatness, from one of those scenes that make sports so magical.
No one wanted the goose bumps in the cool ocean breeze to fade. So as the sun began to settle and Tiger Woods was giving them something to cherish and cheer, they just kept screaming for him, chasing him down the walkway. They just wanted it to go on; one more moment, one more memory here on the cliffs of California.