(CNN) -- Tiger Woods stormed back into contention at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach with a third round 66, leaving him in third place, five shots behind new leader, American Dustin Johnson.
Woods looked set to continue his lackluster form of the first two days, opening his third round with consecutive bogeys at the 2nd and 3rd holes.
But the three-time U.S. Open winner responded like the Woods of old and immediately repaired the damage with three straight birdies.
Better was to follow as a faultless back nine, which included five more birdies, saw Woods come home in 31 strokes.
He left his best until last with birdies at the 16th and 17th holes, before producing a stunning second shot at the 18th to set up a simple two-putt birdie.
With 260 yards to the flag and a cypress tree in his way, Woods carved a 3-wood around the branches to 15 feet from the flag to round off one of his best playing days since returning from a five month lay off in April.
"It was just a great atmosphere," Woods told the Associated Press. "It felt good to put it together. Today I hit shots the way I know I can hit shots."
Woods had targeted a return to even par in the third round.
He had started the day on four over par, but he managed to go one better than he had hoped, finishing on 1 under par, two shots adrift of second round leader Graeme McDowell who carded an even par 71, and five behind Johnson.
Johnson, a two-time winner of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, began his charge with an eagle on the 331-yard par 4, 4th hole. The long-hitting American followed up with birdies at the 6th and 7th.
Despite bogies at 9 and 13, Johnson kept his composure and finished with two birdies for a 66 and a three round total of 207.
His playing partner, McDowell, made a promising start to his round with a brace of birdies taking him to 5 under par, and, for a time, a four stroke lead.
But the man from Northern Ireland finished his round poorly -- bogies at the 16th and 17th -- ensuring that it was 25-year-old Johnson who took a three-shot lead going into today's final round.
"I put myself in a great position for tomorrow," Johnson said, reported PGATour.com.
"It's going to be very hard out there. I'm going to have to stay patient and keep playing like I'm playing. I'm going to be tough to beat."
Phil Mickelson couldn't sustain Friday's good form and followed up his 66 with a 2 over par 73, putting him seven shots behind Johnson and almost out of contention.
South Africa's Ernie Els also slipped back. A round of 73 leaves him tied for 5th place with Mickelson, and only an outside chance of winning his third U.S. Open title.
France's Gregory Havret shot a 2 under par round of 69 to claim fourth place outright one stroke behind Woods on even par.
Europe's better known stars all slipped out of contention on Saturday. England's Lee Westwood finished with a 5 over par 76 and currently sits in a tie for 30th place.
Paul Casey slumped to a 77, as did Ian Poulter, who dropped five shots on the Pebble Beach's testing back nine.
Casey is tied for 16th place on 6 over, while Poulter is one shot further back in a tie for 23rd with, among others, England's Luke Donald and the Republic of Ireland's Padraig Harrington who both had rounds of 74.