Phil Mickelson ended the third round of the Crowne Plaza Invitational as he started it, with a one-stroke lead.
However, it was not all smooth sailing for the world number two, who was in danger of being run over by the charging pack as he fell behind early on before roaring back with a sizzling back nine in benign conditions at Colonial Country Club.
Mickelson made a tardy start with a par at the easy par-five first, followed by a bogey at the par-four second.
“It was tough to be patient watching guys shoot four-or-five under on the front nine and take off,” he said.
“All of a sudden, I go from leading to being three or four shots back,
“With the (lack of) wind, it played so much easier than the first two days. For the most part, it was a day where you could go low and most guys did.”
Mickelson birdied number six to get back on track and almost holed out for eagle at the par-four ninth.
He added five birdies and one bogey on the back nine, regaining the sole lead with a 17-foot birdie at the last to shoot a five-under-par 65.
He was at 12 under overall, with Australian Rod Pampling (63) and Canadian Stephen Ames (64) tied for second on 11 under.
South African Tim Clark (64) was three shots behind, probably the only other player with a realistic chance of winning.
Mickelson, with 33 PGA Tour victories, might be expected to blow away the competition on the final day, but if he was thinking the same, he was not letting on.
“The reality is these guys are great players and playing very well,” Mickelson said.
“There is a reason they are on top of the leaderboard because they are playing well this week. For me to come out on top, I have to somehow play better.”
Pampling had the day’s best score, but it could have been even better.
He bogeyed numbers 16 and 17 after threatening the course record with eight birdies in the first 14 holes.
Displaying mastery of his irons, he hit a series of precise approach shots, and also made a couple of long birdies for good measure.
But his fortunes turned for the worse at the par-three 16th, where his seven-iron trickled over the green, from where he hit a poor chip.
He also dropped a shot at the par-four 17th after a wayward drive, but stemmed the flow with a tap-in birdie at the last.
“It’s nice to be up there with a chance to win,” said Pampling, a two-time PGA Tour winner who lives locally and plays at Colonial every month or so.
Ames, a three-time PGA Tour winner, has a reputation as a shot-maker, and he certainly was on his game as he made six birdies in a bogey-free performance.
“I made the same amount of birdies the first two days,” he said.
“I putted very well, hit some good iron shots, which you’ve got to do out here if you are going to shoot that kind of number I guess.”