Lee Westwood fired himself into contention at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone with a three under par third round 67 on Saturday.
The Englishman, whose last win in America came at the 1998 Freeport-McDermott Classic, will go into Sunday’s final round at the Firestone Country Club with a share of the three-way lead at eight under par after halfway leader Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson both succumbed to bogeys in their closing holes.
Mickelson had a chance to take a one-shot lead into the last day but he missed his putt from 12 feet at the 18th while Singh fell back to eight under with a bogey at the 17th.
Westwood began his round at five under par, two shots adrift of halfway leader Singh and one behind Mickelson but he rattled in three birdies in his first three holes to take the outright lead at eight under.
A bogey at the par four ninth sent the Englishman back to seven under and Westwood turned for home as part of a four-way lead alongside both Singh and Mickelson in the last group of the day and Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez, who joined the front-runners after chipping in for a birdie at the ninth from 90 feet.
Jimenez fell away with an inward nine three over par to card a level par 70, four under for the tournament but Westwood stuck at it with birdies at the 12th and 17th and only a bogey at the 16th in the negative column.
“As a professional golfer that's where you want to be, in the final group in the biggest tournaments,” Westwood said. “It's something I've been looking forward to.”
He added: “I was surprised how good the scoring was when you looked at the boards, because standing on the range you felt like the golf course was going to play pretty tough because we didn't get the rain overnight as expected, and it felt like it was going to dry out as the day went on.
“I knew they'd tuck the flags like they normally do on the weekend here. So I wanted to come out quick, and birdie, birdie, birdie was obviously great.
“I played pretty solid all day, a couple poor iron shots I pulled and one I hit fat on 7. But other than that, I gave myself a pretty pain free day under quite testing conditions I thought.”
Australian Stuart Appleby was just a shot back of Westwood at seven under with first round leader Retief Goosen rallying from a 71 on Friday to post a 68 and finish the day five under for the tournament.
Among those on four under was Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, who posted a five under par round of 65, the joint best round of the day.
Sweden’s Daniel Chopra fired a four under round of 67 and England’s Ian Poulter a 69 to move to four under for the tournament.
Chopra had been four under for his day after 17 holes, bouncing back from a disappointing four over par second round 74. Yet he suffered the same fate as Clarke when he bogeyed the 18th.
Clarke’s playing partner Sergio Garcia had started strongly to move to three under after ten holes but his charge was checked by three bogeys on the back nine. A birdie at the 17th was the only ray of light as the Spaniard posted a 68 to finish the day at one under for the tournament.
England’s Justin Rose birdied his first three holes and the seventh to move to three under but fell back with bogeys at the 14th and 15th holes on his way to a 68 that also put him at one under.
Fiji’s Singh had taken a one-shot lead over Mickelson into the third day following a second-round 66 and they teed off together as the final pairing of the day.
Singh has a good record of converting 36-hole leads into victories, achieving the feat in seven of the last ten events he has got into the position. Most recently, though, in this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in March he had to settle for a tie for third behind winner Tiger Woods following a third round 73.
When he followed birdies at the second and third holes with bogeys at the fourth and seventh it appeared there might be another wobble in the making as he lost the outright lead.
American World Number Two Mickelson, meanwhile, dropped a shot at the opening hole, driving right and into a fairway bunker from which he was forced to lay up 40 yards from the hole.
Yet he recovered from his shaky start to post birdies at the second and eighth holes and again after a bogey on 13 with a hat-trick of birdies to move to nine under.
Singh knocked in two birdies in a row at 15 and 16 but both he and Mickelson dropped those crucial shots to let Westwood in for a share of the lead.
“I think it will be a fun shootout,” Mickelson said. “There’s four guys right there and then there’s a big grouping four shots back. So I think we’re all in a good position.”