Jon Rahm produced a battling, bogey-free round of seven-under-par 65 to hit the front of the $10-million DP World Tour Championship in Dubai on Saturday.
The 2021 US Open victor holds a one-stroke lead over Matthew Fitzpatrick, the 2022 US Open champion, with Rory McIlroy also breathing down his neck a further two strokes back.
All three are also looking to become the first three-time champion of the tournament.
Fitzpatrick and McIlroy, meanwhile, are two of the seven players in the field vying to win the Race to Dubai.
With two others, Adrian Meronk and Tommy Fleetwood, both two strokes behind McIlroy at 10 under, there is every prospect of a thrilling final round on Sunday.
McIlroy needs to finish ahead of Ryan Fox and Fitzpatrick to become only the second player after Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in 2013 to win the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai in the same season.
The Northern Irishman, who had closed his round on Friday with a birdie-birdie-eagle finish, overcame a stuttering start when he sandwiched an eagle on the second with bogeys on the 1st and 3rd.
But he was brilliant otherwise in a round of 65 to finish in tied fourth place at 12-under par.
“It’s been a little better. I thought that last three holes yesterday could really kick-start a little bit of momentum for me, and I’ve brought that into today,” said the 33-year-old.
“I know how to shoot low scores here and I know how to make birdies. It was just a matter of getting it out of myself. Over the last 21 holes, it’s been a lot better.
“I just need to continue to put the ball in play off the tee and in the fairway and give myself plenty of chances from there.”
Rahm, who is out of the running for the Race to Dubai title, relishes the challenge of the Earth course at the Jumeirah Golf Estates – his worst score in 14 rounds at the course is a 70.
“Could not be any more opposite of the feeling from the second round,” said the Spaniard. “I don’t think I could have shot any lower today. I maximised the round.
“I’m hoping, come tomorrow, I can be a little better off the tee, and still keep the good iron play and good putting going.”
Fitzpatrick, the joint halfway leader with fellow Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, was off-colour at the start as he made the turn at one-over par, falling four shots off the lead. But his new-found golf wisdom paid dividends.
“Something I’ve learned massively this year is to be more patient,” he said. “I’m not the best at it, but I’ve got so much better.
“I think that’s been a big thing – just being patient and knowing that I’m playing some good golf.”
Fitzpatrick recovered to go around in 70 but was still frustrated by a par on the par-five 18th hole when he drove into the water, missing the chance to tie for the lead with Rahm.
At 14-under par, he was two ahead of McIlroy and Hatton, who made four bogeys coming in and gave up his lead.
Sweden’s Alex Noren (68) was in sole third place at 13-under par 203.
South Africans Thriston Lawrence and Oliver Bekker are on three over and four over respectively.
The winner this week gets a cheque of $3-million, while the top-eight players on the Race to Dubai share a bonus pool of $3-million, with the winner getting $1-million.
© Agence France-Presse