Then Woods imploded, too, and there's something that's become increasingly familiar about that.
Spieth's victories would be the other way around and make it four wins in his past 15 majors, during which time the 24-year-old has also finished second twice, third and fourth. Scotland's unusually dry summer finally got a reprieve. And it's the first time he has had to look over his shoulder at Woods.
Woods parred the 17th but still stood two shots off Molinari as they went to the final hole.
However, swept along by a massive gallery cheering his every move, this was the biggest indication yet since returning from a fourth back operation that Woods can compete at the highest level again.
Woods made the most of his good fortune to make par. "This time, it's me".
"I played a little bit better yesterday", Woods said of his matching scores for the opening two rounds.
Spieth maintained that being put on the clock at the start of the back nine really hurt his chances.
And all of the six players still competing had a shot at the prize. I really did. I hit a lot of good shots.
Seven players had a share of the lead at one point.
In the end, it hardly mattered: Woods's tee shot found the right side of the fairway and trundled past a bunker, leaving him with just gap wedge left.
A visit to the sand on the fifth cost him a bogey though and then he was snared by Hogan's Alley - the 580-yard par-five named after his fellow Texan, Ben Hogan, who threaded his ball between its unforgiving bunkers four times to win in 1953. Woods and Spieth were among five contenders to make double bogeys. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole.
Huge crowds descended on the seaside links and the majority were willing Woods to claim a fairytale 15th major a decade after his last one. Now he's more of a nostalgia act teasing fans with sparks of his past greatness. "He's been working his butt off", Spieth said. "It's more a day to make as many pars as possible".
Spieth had his own issues, of course, kicking away a share of the lead on his way to a fat 76 in the final round.
The 35-year-old now has three wins and two runner-up finishes in his last seven tournaments.
"It didn't feel any different".
"I'm going to have to have an awesome round to get myself in it", he said.
"Asked how much he paid he added: "£20 pounds, I think.
But it was different, as different as his bald spot is to the full head of hair he had in his prime. "The golf course was gettable".
Woods, 42, was in Sunday's third-to-last group. He finished at a 5-under 279 after shooting an even 71 on Sunday, but the buzz that Woods created just by coming close was incredible. "I was very excited last night not to be down the road, ruing another Open opportunity gone".
There is a birthday celebration later in the evening, the guest list includes the man who played a major role in him becoming a golfer - Anirban Lahiri - but Sharma is already thinking of a Sunday charge. A tie for sixth means nothing.
"I played pretty similar to this at the Players Championship".
It was a tender moment between a father and his kids, but also another reminder that Father Time waits for no one.
Tiger Woods capped a three-under front nine with a long birdie putt.
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