José Maria Olazábal equalled the lowest round in the history of major championship golf at Valhalla as some uncharacteristic errors by Tiger Woods turned the 82nd US PGA Championship into a wide open race.
The Spaniard, twice winner of the Masters tournament at Augusta National, had 11 threes in his blistering course record 63, nine under par, which elevated him from level par to nine under – just four shots off the lead going into the final day in Louisville, Kentucky.
Woods shot a third round 70, birdieing the last, for a 13 under par total of 203 and a one shot lead over Scott Dunlap – also 70 – and 1999 Victor Chandler British Masters champion Bob May, who fired his second successive 66.
Olazábal, who shares sixth place with Dane Thomas Björn, became the 19th player in major history to score 63, but he came agonisingly close to lowering that figure, just missing a birdie attempt at the 17th and failing to make the most of the par five closing hole at Valhalla.
The score of 63 has twice been recorded by Greg Norman and once by Britain's Nick Faldo and Paul Broadhurst.
Since the 18th is a par five the chance was obviously there, but after just missing a 10-foot opportunity on the 422-yard 17th Olazabal's pitch to the 542-yard last was pushed and ran away down a tier in the green.
In the end he did well to two-putt to match the mark first achieved by Johnny Miller in the 1973 US Open at Oakmont and last recorded by Norman at the 1996 Masters.
However it was a remarkable effort by ‘Olly’, who admitted that he “hadn’t had as much fun on a golf course for a long time”. He said: “I knew if I drove the ball better I could shoot a low score as my irons have been good. I took my chances today, although I thought the putt at the 17th was in.”
It seemed that that effort might be in vain, as Woods – chasing his third major title of the season – picked up four strokes in the first ten holes to move from 11 under par to 15 under, and three ahead of the tenacious Dunlap, who began the third round one behind.
But the defending champion, world number one, US Open champion and Open champion reminded everyone he was human after all by double-bogeying the 467-yard 12th. In the trees off the tee he found a gap, but came up short of the green, and after chipping on he three-putted, missing from only three feet.
Dunlap birdied the same hole, ensuring a three stroke swing.. So it was not proving the walk in the park which Woods had enjoyed in the US Open at Pebble Beach in June or the Open at St Andrews last month.
Woods won those by 15 and eight strokes respectively, but his double bogey gave hope to everyone in the chasing pack, and he went on to drop another stroke at the 15th to let several players back into the championship.
Björn, four under overnight, got to nine under with a magnificent eagle three at the 10th, but after shedding two strokes coming home, he finished powerfully with a pair of birdies to join his Spanish Ryder Cup team-mate on 205 with a round of 67.
Darren Clarke, four under overnight and still harbouring hopes of getting back into contention, resumed with a bogey and managed only 37 for the outward half. He was three under and nine behind as a result - and level with his stablemate Lee Westwood, who had a bizarre 69.
Westwood birdied three of the first five holes, then dropped four shots in three holes (including a double bogey on the ninth), but then started and finished the back nine with two birdies, making seven in all.
Nick Faldo, nine over after four holes of his second round, and Padraig Harrington also had 69s to improve to level par, but Colin Montgomerie could not catch the mood of his 50-year-old playing partner Tom Watson.
While the five-time Open champion had a 65 to equal the course record - until Olazabal came along - Montgomerie fell back after more than doubling his tally of birdies with four in a front nine 33, before coming home in 37.
Fellow Scots Andrew Coltart and Paul Lawrie both shot 73 to be one over and three over respectively.