Luke Donald (Getty Images)
Luke Donald is on course to retain his BMW PGA Championship title - and return to World Number One - after defying testing conditions with a third round of 69 in front of record Saturday crowds.
More than 25,000 spectators flocked through the gates at Wentworth Club to witness the English Ryder Cup star showed his class with a joint-best round of the day in strong winds.
Needing only a top eight finish to take the World Number One spot back off Rory McIlroy, who opened the door by missing a second successive cut, the 34 year old is now 11 under par and two ahead of Justin Rose.
Donald is trying to follow Sir Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie as the only players to make a successful defence of The European Tour's flagship event. Faldo did it in 1980 and 1981, while Montgomerie had three wins in a row from 1998 to 2000.
Overnight leader James Morrison endured a difficult day, however. Four clear after a sparkling second round 64, the World Number 236 signed for an 81 and will go into the closing 18 holes eight strokes off the lead.
In contrast, Donald plotted his way around like the expert he now is, gathering birdies at the first two par fives and then going two clear at the 13th.
Peter Lawrie was the man out in front by then, but as the Irishman hit into the trees and bogeyed, Donald fired in an iron to six feet and picked up another shot.
He did bogey the 15th after driving into a ditch, but salvaged a par on the long 17th after going in the trees and hitting an on-course television reporter with his next shot.
Then, to nobody's surprise, he laid up short of the water on the last, pitched to 18 feet and made the birdie putt.
Rose, who played with Donald the first two days and admired his ability to bounce straight back from trouble, and Ian Poulter were the only others to break 70.
Lawrie is in third spot on seven under after a 72, while joint fourth are former Open Champion Paul Lawrie and South African trio Branden Grace, Richard Sterne and Ernie Els.
Donald said: "The tougher the better for me. The good players that can be patient and deal with it are always going to rise to the top usually.
"That was by far my best round of the three. The wind was swirling and I hit a lot of solid shots.
"There were a couple of loose ones coming down the stretch, but I'm very pleased with that finish - it was hugely important for me.
"Physically and mentally it was tough and it's going to be a grind tomorrow."
Rose, who could move to a career-high fifth in the Official World Golf Ranking by winning, commented: "I'm delighted. It was one of those days where I only realised how good a round it was after I signed my card and saw that the course had taken its toll."