American Steve Stricker carded the lowest round ever in an Open Championship at Carnoustie to set a testing clubhouse target today.
Stricker equalled the course record held by Alan Tait and Colin Montgomerie with a flawless 64 for a six under par total of 207.
Only overnight leader Sergio Garcia was ahead of Stricker on the course, the Ryder Cup star eight under par at the turn after birdies on the first and eighth.
Stricker, a former Accenture World Match Play champion, birdied the first three holes and picked up further shots at the fifth and seventh, surprisingly missing out on a birdie at the par-five sixth – the second easiest hole on the course over the first two days.
Out in a best-of-the-week 31, the 40-year-old from Wisconsin also birdied the 13th and 14th and saved par from 30ft on the 15th after driving into a fairway bunker.
That was precisely the sort of round defending champion Tiger Woods had been looking for, but the world number one had to settle for a 69 after twice hitting people in the crowd with wild shots.
One female spectator needed stitches in a head wound after being hit by Woods’ sliced approach to the par-five sixth hole.
Jennifer Wilson, 63, from County Antrim, was presented with a signed glove and ball from an apologetic Woods after suffering a cut to the left side of her head.
No damage was done when another fan was struck a glancing blow on the 14th, Woods going on to record one of his four birdies on the 514-yard par five to finish one under par.
“You just have to grind it out,” said Woods, who has won all 12 of his major titles when leading or tied for the lead going into the final round.
“I have to play a little bit better than I have been, that’s for sure, but at least I’ve given myself a chance.
“Paul (Lawrie) came from 10 back in 1999 (in the final round) so you can do it on this golf course.”
Chris DiMarco, runner-up to Woods last year, was three behind Stricker on three under after a fine 66.
“I felt like I learned the strategy of the course the last couple of days,” said DiMarco, who has been plagued by a bone spur in his shoulder since Hoylake.
“I think yesterday’s round (70) gave me a lot of confidence.
“I hit the ball today the best I’ve done all year. I’m going to go out tomorrow and play aggressively.”
Ireland’s Paul McGinley was also three under after a 68 while World Cup-winning partner Padraig Harrington was on the same score with two to play.
Justin Rose carded a 67 to finish one under with Paul Casey one over after a 69.
Earlier in the day Ian Poulter, in the third match out, was five under for the day and one under overall after 14 holes, only to finish double bogey-bogey-bogey-par for a 70 and three over total of 216.
“I was thinking it was Muirfield all over again,” said Poulter, referring to the Open in 2002 when the early starters were able to post a good score before driving wind and rain blew the leaders off course – Tiger Woods crashing to an 81.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to shoot low. I missed a few chances and at five under was thinking I could have been eight or nine under.
“I made one bad swing on 15, I’ve struggled with that drive all week, and then my nine iron got caught in the rough and went straight left into a bush. It was a snowball effect and I dropped four shots, it was a real kick in the teeth.”