Adam Scott birdied three of his last five holes en route to a four-under par 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead over Ryo Ishikawa and Jason Day after three rounds of the Bridgestone Invitational.
Scott’s six birdies included three in a row from the 14th as the Australian built a 54-hole total of 12-under 198 on the par-70 Firestone course.
It was the lowest three-round score at Firestone in a decade, and his late burst helped Scott emerge from the pack on a day when as many as seven players briefly shared the lead.
“Today was a good round because I wasn’t really feeling it, although I’m swinging well,” Scott said.
“Just a couple shots got away from me throughout the round, and I somehow managed to straighten it out early on the back nine and played really nicely coming in, so I was very happy with this round.”
Japan’s Ishikawa, 19, fired a six-under 64, playing without a bogey despite some detours through the trees. He was joined on 11-under 199 by Australia’s Day, whose 66 included four birdies and an eagle on the par-five second hole to offset two bogeys.
Ishikawa, winner of 10 titles on the Japan Golf Tour, is trying to become the youngest winner on the US PGA Tour in a century.
US tour rookie Keegan Bradley carded a 68 for 200 and shared fourth place with Scotland’s Martin Laird, who posted a 67.
England’s Luke Donald moved up the leaderboard with a 64 that put him on 201, tied with American Rickie Fowler (69) and Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson (67).
Donald, winner of the WGC Match Play Championship earlier this year, needed just 26 putts and said that was the key to his improved scoring.
“It’s nice to get in position,” Donald said. “I putted a lot better today. That was really the only difference between today and the first two days.
“I’ve been swinging it nicely, hitting a lot of fairways, a lot of greens. Just was able to get the putter rolling and hole a few putts, which was a pleasant surprise.”
Former world number one Tiger Woods struggled on the greens on the way to a two-over 72 that left him 13 shots off the lead.
The event serves as a tuneup for Woods for next week’s PGA Championship at Atlanta, where he will resume his quest to break the record of 18 major championships won by Jack Nicklaus.
Woods is playing his first tournament since limping out of the Players Championship in May. His last complete round came at the Masters, where he first suffered the left knee and Achilles injuries that sidelined him.
Despite his difficulties with the putter, Woods was satisfied with his ball-striking.
“I really hit it good coming home, started hitting the ball the right flight, every tee shot was flash, everything was back to where it was at the beginning of the week,” Woods said.
“Only difference is I didn’t putt well again today, two horseshoes, three-putted 18, and then obviously made a bogey with a sand wedge on 16. That’s four shots right there.”
No matter how he plays, Woods remains a focus of attention whenever he’s on the course.
Ishikawa, a superstar back home, knows how that feels, although he has struggled in his US starts.
His only top 10 finish in America was in the Match Play Championship in 2010, but a tie for 20th at the Masters has helped him feel more at home Stateside.
Even so, he warned it was too soon to start thinking about becoming the youngest winner of a US tour-sanctioned event since 19-year-old John McDermott won the 1911 US Open.
“I think it’s a little too early to think about winning this whole thing as of now,” Ishikawa said. “But I do feel that I was able to play at a pretty good level, pretty high level today.
“I am a little bit surprised how I performed out there,” added Ishikawa, who in March announced he was donating all of his 2011 earnings to tsunami relief in Japan.
So far, that has amounted to some $740,000, with money pledged for birdies and eagles adding about $215,000.