Darren Clarke shot a superb 65 to take the clubhouse lead on four under par at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational.
The Northern Irishman, who is one of just three players to win a WGC event more than once, could have been even better placed for a third title, but a bogey at the last reduced his third round score to five under.
It places him four shots off the current score of leaders Lee Westwood and Vijay Singh, while a further seven players on the course are five under or better overall.
Clarke’s round sprung to life with a run of three birdies from the second holes, before his momentum was slowed by a bogey four at the seventh.
A birdie at the next got him back on track, while strokes gained at the 11th, 16th and 17th had him heading for the lowest score of the week. A bogey at the par four 18th pegged him back to four under for the competition, leaving him one clear of Sweden’s Daniel Chopra, who shot 66.
Clarke, a winner at the Firestone Country Club in 2003, was more than happy with his day’s work, particularly having missed the cut in his previous three tournaments.
“I think all summer long, the last three or four months, I’ve pushed and pushed and tried too hard, practiced too hard and worked too hard,” Clarke said.
“I’ve wanted to play well too much whereas now I’ve chilled out a little bit and just gone and played and enjoyed it and see what that brings.
“If you try too hard sometimes it goes the opposite way and that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve been desperate to play really well and I couldn’t do it.”
This week Clarke said he has been enjoying himself on a course he knows well.
“It’s always good where you’ve won on venues before to go back to them because you do have good memories,” he said.
“It’s a tough golf course, a tricky golf course and today I played really, really well. It was unfortunate to make bogey on the last but overall I’m very pleased with the way I played.”
If Clarke maintains that form he said he would be delighted to get a call from Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo.
“I’m a long way out of it at the moment and I need to show Nick some form. I’ve got four tournaments left and I need to play well in those and if I do he might consider me for a pick and if I don’t I’ll be watching on the TV like everybody else. I’m just trying to play as well as I can and we’ll see what happens.
“If I did play well, like I did today, I think I would be an addition to the team. If I don’t play well I would not expect a pick. So I just want to play as well as I can and see where that takes me.”
Clarke’s playing partner was Sergio Garcia, with the Spaniard also in good form. He produced six birdies checked by four bogeys to score 68 and reach one under for the tournament.
Garcia was joined at one under by England’s Justin Rose, who birdied his first three holes and the seventh to move to three under but fell back with bogeys at the 14th and 15th holes.
Paul Casey was also one under after a 68.
On the course, Westwood was going strong at three under after seven holes – eight under overall – while Singh was matching him having collected one shot from five holes.
Stuart Appleby is a shot further back after gaining three strokes through seven, while Miguel Angel Jimenez is also on seven under par overall. Ian Poulter’s good form is continuing as the Englishman has collected two shots from 13 holes to move to four under overall.