NORTON, Mass. -- A long time ago, David Duval said playing in a tournament with Tiger Woods was a pretty straightforward task because you knew in order to beat him, you had to make birdies. And that's been true for close to 20 years.
Woods was always the pacesetter and the front-runner. To keep up with him you had to capitalize on every opportunity to make birdies. As a player, you watched what he was doing to know what you needed to do to stay near the lead.
On Sunday, Woods and Rory McIlroy were supposed to be the pacesetters in the third round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, but Louis Oosthuizen made them and the rest of field look like they were running at a snail's pace as he started his round with birdies at eight of the first 10 holes.
Playing in the final pairing with McIlroy, the 29-year-old South African stole the show at TPC Boston with an 8-under-par 63 that included a tournament-record 29 on the front nine as well as seven consecutive birdies.
Heading into a final round on Labor Day, Oosthuizen is 19-under with a 3-shot lead over McIlroy, who had a 67 on Sunday.
"Yeah, obviously the start anyone would dream of on that front nine," Oosthuizen said. "I made everything, so you get those days where you just look at a putt and you hole it.
"Once I started getting birdies, making putts, I started going at the pins because my swing felt great, and after 10 holes being 8-under, you always think about getting it to 59. But I think it would have been really tough playing tomorrow shooting in the 50s today. So I'm very happy with my 8-under today."
Remember, Oosthuizen is the same guy who won the 2010 Open Championship by 7 shots at St. Andrews. He's the man who had a double-eagle at the second hole in the final round of the Masters in April, where he lost in a playoff to Bubba Watson. So it's not surprising to see him raise his game to a high level against the best players in the world in the pressure of his first FedEx Cup playoffs.
What will be interesting now is to see how well Oosthuizen handles the lead on Monday with the likes of McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Woods trying to chase him down.
At the beginning of the third round, the way was clear for McIlroy and Woods to meet in the final pairing on Monday afternoon. We'll have to wait at least another week for two of the game's biggest stars to play head-to-head on the last day of a tournament. But in the meantime, we get to see how they will do as chasers in these playoffs.
On Sunday, Tiger didn't succumb to the third-round doldrums that have characterized some of his recent play. He had a respectable 68 that leaves him tied for third at 13 under and 6 shots off the lead. Woods was feeling hopeful about his chances on Monday.
"It won't surprise me if somebody shoots 8 or 9 under par tomorrow because of where the pin locations are," Tiger said. "It may be early, it may be late, who knows, but hopefully I am one of those guys."
When Tiger won here in 2006, he shot a front-nine 30 in the final round to catch and beat Vijay Singh. Woods has only 23 comeback wins after 54 holes in 74 PGA Tour victories. Earlier this year, he came from 4 strokes back heading into the final round to win the Memorial and a shot back at the AT&T National.
Early Sunday afternoon it looked like McIlroy was going to be the man that Woods and others would be trying to catch. But after 10 holes, McIlroy was 6 shots behind Oosthuizen.
"I was delighted when I got the honor back on the 12th tee, but it was great to watch," McIlroy said of Oosthuizen's birdie binge. "Louis is the sort of player that can do that. He's very explosive, and he didn't really put a foot wrong today."
On Easter night, I was in the Augusta National clubhouse when Oosthuizen came in after losing that playoff to Watson. He didn't look dejected or downbeat. When he could have asked for hugs, he tried to console his family, friends and fellow countryman, Charl Schwartzel, who won the previous year's green jacket.
Oosthuizen said Sunday night that he had a new level of confidence in his game. He knew his win at St. Andrews wasn't a fluke, and that he had the ability now to win multiple majors.
On Labor Day, he'll have the opportunity to show that he can beat a couple of major champions in a very important tournament. He will play with McIlroy again in the final pairing, and have Tiger and Dustin Johnson in the penultimate group.
These players know what they need to do to run down Oosthuizen.
Tiger hasn't been in this position often in his career. He's always shot low scores when it counted the most, but nearly always on his terms, when no one else could do it as consistently or with as much drama. On Monday, he'll need to come out quickly with a bogey-free card full of birdies and even an eagle or two at the par 5s.
Pars won't get it done.
The 14-time major winner now has that same very straightforward task that he set down for others during his prime, to make birdies -- continuously.
Based on the way Oosthuizen played on Sunday, he is likely to match Woods and all comers with his own great shots and birdies.
With their hard work, all these players will certainly do justice to the spirit of Labor Day.