Sizzling 66 puts charging Woods in the mix

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland, July 21 (Reuters) - Three-time champion Tiger Woods rolled back the years and roared into contention at the British Open with a sizzling third-round 66 at Carnoustie on Saturday.

On a day perfect for low scoring, Woods let rip with his driver and tucked into the birdie buffet, briefly grabbing a share of the lead -- something the American had not done since the 2013 Masters.

His five-under 66 was his lowest round at the British Open since he romped to victory at Hoylake in 2006.

"That was good. I played well today. I really did. I hit a lot of good shots," Woods told reporters.

He has been plagued by injuries and personal problems including a marriage breakup since winning the last of his 14 majors a decade ago.

"Given what happened the last few years, I didn't know if that would ever happen again, but here I am with a chance coming Sunday in a major championship. It's going to be fun."

Few golfers have ever captivated a crowd quite like Woods in his pomp and it was like watching a tape from years gone by as he pulled the driver out of the bag and went on the attack.

Huge crowds swarmed across the Scottish links trying to catch a glimpse of the 42-year-old's barnstorming charge.

He began the day on level par after two steady rounds, tied for 29th. Six birdies propelled him rapidly upwards.

Woods, playing at his first British Open since 2015 when he missed the cut at St Andrews, began his charge with a birdie at the fourth and picked up another shot at the sixth.

When a 25-foot birdie putt trundled across the ninth green and into the cup it seemed like something special was brewing.

"You're the man, Tiger, and everyone knows it," yelled one fan standing next to another in an orange and black tiger costume.

Feeding off the electrifying atmosphere, Woods sent a laser-guided second shot to the 10th that left him a tap-in birdie, then at the 11th he rolled a 95-foot eagle putt to five feet and tapped home to gain another shot.

It could have been even better. Woods dropped his putter in disbelief when a birdie attempt refused to drop on 13, but he took another at the par-five 14th and the leaderboards around the course suddenly showed Woods on top on six-under with a clutch of Americans including defending champion Jordan Spieth.

He did not stay there long, however. At the treacherous par-three 16th his tee-shot just failed to stay on the green and he three-putted.

Woods played his "one bad swing" at the 18th, but lady luck intervened to keep his ball out of Barry Burn and in thick rough that at least gave him a shot.

He laid up, then speared a majestic 150-yard wedge to within three feet.

It sounded like a Woods victory march as he strode to the green to complete a memorable round.

"It's been a few years since I've felt like this," Woods said. "I'm right there. I've got a chance at this, which is great. We'll find out what the lead is by day's end. At least I know that I will be there with a chance."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman Editing by Christian Radnedge and John Stonestreet)