Luke Donald, who came from six shots back to win the Target World Challenge in December, found himself needing the same last-day fireworks after a disappointing third-round 71 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-am.
Donald, who began the week with a course record-equalling 62 at Spyglass Hill, is chasing both Canadian Mike Weir and American Arron Oberholser.
They stand 17 under par, Oberholser after a joint best-of-the-day 66 at Pebble Beach and Weir following a 69 at Spyglass.
Donald is third on his own at 11-under and fellow Englishman Brian Davis joint fourth a further stroke behind.
Oberholser was bound to be thinking back two years when he set off for what could be a duel between him and Weir.
The 31-year-old Californian was joint leader with Vijay Singh with a round to go then, but slumped to a 76 and is still seeking his first US Tour win.
“I was a deer in headlights,” said Oberholser. “I was going against, in my opinion, the number one player in the world – he was winning everything.
“I wasn’t present at all that entire day. I couldn’t find my rhythm and I was too busy paying attention to him. I let the moment get away from me.
“Now I’m a little wiser, a little older, more experienced and I’ve finally realised it’s the six inches between your ears (which is important).”
Former Masters champion Weir has not won for two years, but he was runner-up in the event to Phil Mickelson a year ago and has finished in the top 10 five of the last six years.
“I’ve been close,” said the left-hander. “I’ve played good rounds on Sunday, but not quite good enough.”
Even if he is too far back to win, Davis has the chance to equal his best-ever finish in America – joint third in last year’s Nissan Open.
Dublin’s Paul McGinley birdied the last two holes at Spyglass to move into a tie for 22nd spot on six-under, but Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, requiring a closing birdie at Poppy Hills to survive the cut, ran up a double bogey seven.
Now McDowell has to wait to see if he has qualified for the Accenture World Match Play starting on Wednesday week.
Only the top 64 in the world rankings tomorrow earn places and McDowell came into the week 65th, but while Sergio Garcia is known to be a non-starter at La Costa, Ian Poulter’s sixth place finish in Australia may well keep McDowell out.
Greg Owen, third last year, was nine strokes too many on six-over and Sandy Lyle had already trailed off last at 23 over when he was disqualified with three holes to play.
Paul McGinley is best placed of the Irish, tied for 22nd at six under.