Instead of hanging up in thick grass on the side of the hill, it tumbled into a flat lie on the bunker.
A sterling back nine gave Pampling a 4-under 68. His final birdie, coupled with a bogey for Adam Scott, gave him a three-shot lead over Scott (72) and Sean O'Hair (69).
Next up could be a rare double: Only six other players have won tournaments hosted by Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Pampling's last PGA TOUR victory came a year ago at Bay Hill.
'That would be nice,' Pampling said. 'Hopefully, the good fortune will keep going tomorrow.'
Scott was in the lead most of the day until watching Pampling make an unlikely birdie on the 14th from 40 feet. Scott kept in range with three straight one-putt greens down the stretch, his luck running out on the final hole.
The 26-year-old Aussie hit his tee shot on about the same line as Pampling, only his ball was nestled in thick grass next to a steep slope, and he couldn't reach the green. Scott chipped to 8 feet and missed the par putt.
With storms in the forecast, tee times will be moved up Sunday and the final round will be threesomes. Pampling was at 15-under 201, and in the last group with Scott and O'Hair.
'I'm still playing with Rod,' Scott said. 'And I'll know what's going on, so I can put pressure on, hopefully.'
O'Hair stumbled out of contention until he holed a bunker shot from behind the seventh green for eagle, then rallied with three birdies in a four-hole stretch on the back nine. It's a good opportunity for O'Hair in his first tournament since THE PLAYERS Championship, where he lost a duel to Phil Mickelson while putting two balls in the water on the island-green 17th.
'A great day of patience, so that was huge for me,' O'Hair said.
Will MacKenzie and Stewart Cink each shot 65, the low rounds of the day, and were at 205 with Aaron Baddeley (71). The group at 206 included U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy (67) and K.J. Choi (67).
Tiger Woods sputtered again, making birdie on only one of the par 5s in his round of 70 that left him 11 shots behind.
'I just haven't made anything,' Woods said.
Bubba Watson couldn't blame his meltdown on bad luck, just bad choices. He was tied for the lead in the middle of the round and still very much in the hunt until he wound up six shots behind in a span of four holes.
His troubles came on the 15th when his drive went left into the trees and deep rough. Instead of taking a drop, he tried to play out into the fairway, hit a tree and then had to take a penalty shot for an unplayable lie. He hit his fourth shot into the right rough, his fifth shot over the green and he failed to get up-and-down for an 8.
'I screwed up,' Watson said. 'My caddie told me to take a drop on 15. But I was going to be a hero and chip the ball back to the fairway. Afterward, he laughed and said, 'Next time, let's just take the drop.''
Pampling's good fortune began on No. 2 when he pushed his tee shot to the right, toward the creek. It caught a finger of land, and he hit a beautiful approach to the front of the green for a two-putt par.
He also avoided a big number. Pampling hit 3-wood that came up short of the par-5 fifth green and into the water, and after taking a drop, his slid off the front of the green and was headed back into the water until the rough held it up. He escaped with bogey, the last mistake he made the rest of a gloomy afternoon.
'Once I made that bogey, things totally changed,' Pampling said. 'I said to my caddie, 'Why am I being so conservative out here? Let's me more aggressive.''
Scott had his chances. He had a number of birdie putts inside 15 feet that grazed the lip, and he wasted a chance to build a two-shot cushion after a beautiful approach over the bunkers to 35 feet on the seventh. But he three-putted for par, missing from 3 feet, and a daring approach from the right rough on No. 9 clipped a branch, taking enough off the ball to send it into the water.
'I didn't really ever get it going today,' Scott said. 'I struggled with the pace on the greens. I just didn't get any momentum going.'
After a birdie on No. 10 to join Watson at 12 under, Scott had four straight birdie putts inside 15 feet and didn't make any, the most discouraging an 8-footer after an aggressive shot left of the pin on the 13th.
For all his birdies, what might have saved Pampling was a slick, 6-foot putt to save par from a bunker on the 10th. Then came another save from the bunker for birdie on No. 11, just as Nicklaus and his grandson pulled up in a cart to watch.
He took the lead for the first time with the 40-foot birdie on the 14th, and even that required a small piece of luck. He pulled his hybrid off the tee, and was begging for it to stop rolling, which it did with about two paces to spare before going into the creek.
The final break, of course, came at the 18th, especially considering where Scott wound up.
'I had a nice, flat lie in the bunker, and Adam had a pretty gnarly lie there,' Pampling said. 'That's just the breaks. Thankfully, it went my way and I hit a great shot.'