Garcia shot 3-under 67 to go from a three-shot deficit on the front nine to a three-shot lead through 54 holes, leaving him poised to become only the third player to capture The Players Championship and the Tour Championship in the same year.
Garcia was at 8-under 202 and will play in the final pairing Sunday with Phil Mickelson, who made some long par putts and just enough birdies for a 69, giving him a chance to end his year on a strong note.
Six days after Kim crushed Garcia in the leadoff singles match at the Ryder Cup, the 23-year-old American looked as if he would get the best of Garcia again with six straight one-putt greens. But Kim hit only four fairways, and his wildness caught up with him.
I dont know anyone that could have fixed that golf swing, Kim said. I was just trying to hit it in the right areas of the rough.
The worst of it came on the ninth, when his tee shot hit a 48-year-old man in the forehead on the fly, opening a 2-inch gash that spilled blood on the Bermuda rough. The fan, David Whitfield of Atlanta, was taken to a hospital, but he never lost consciousness and appeared to be in good spirits.
Kim gave the mans wife a golf ball that he signed with a note: Sorry.
Garcia birdied the par-5 ninth to catch Kim, and he pulled away with a birdie on the par-5 15th.
Obviously, AK wasnt on his A-game, Garcia said. I still feel like he scrambled nicely. He got some putts going in the beginning. I managed to make some birdies and played solidly.
Kim wound up with a 72 and was three shots behind.
Those two young stars in the final group of the third round finally brought some energy to the post-Ryder Cup blues at East Lake, although anyone hopeful of a rematch would have been sorely disappointed.
They were laughing and chatting from the start, especially on the first green when Garcia asked if he should move his ball mark.
He gave me of those looks like, I dont need to hit it that far left. And he actually hit the left side of the coin, Garcia said. It was one of those funny things that happen.
There wasnt much humor early on.
Garcia was closer to the cup on the first four holes ' twice for birdie while Kim was trying to save par ' and Kim wound up expanding his lead. Even Kim had to laugh on the fourth, when his approach from the rough came out so hot that it wound up 35 yards over the green, leaving him no shot to a back pin. His chip rolled down the ridge 30 feet away, and he holed it for par.
Garcia offered a wry smile, but he never got down.
Theres no doubt he got off to a good start with his putter, made some good putts early on and kind of went in front of me, Garcia said. But I was just staying patient. I knew that my game was in good shape.
Kim was errant off the tee no matter what club was in his hand, and he was fortunate to lose only one shot on the par-3 sixth when his fall wound up right of the green, off the slope and into the water. Garcia closed the gap to one shot with a 12-foot birdie on the seventh, then took the momentum on the ninth.
It was an ugly scene, with Whitfield on his back covering the 2-inch gash, and Kim pacing as the paramedics arrived.
I thought I killed him, Kim said. It was an awful feeling to look down and see a golf ball-sized impression in his forehead and its cut open. It was probably the nastiest thing Ive ever seen. It didnt affect my golf game. I still played the way I would ' I was hitting it terrible, anyway. I was hoping and praying that hed be OK.
Garcia fell one behind with his only bogey of the round on the 13th, but the third round turned in his favor.
Kim three-putted for bogey on the 14th, took three putts from just off the green on the par-5 15th as Garcia made birdie, then hit his approach off a corporate tent on the 16th and had to scramble for bogey.
Mickelson, who saved par from 35 feet on the 11th, briefly joined them in the lead with a birdie at the 15th, only to miss the fairway into thick rough on the next hole and drop a shot. Even so, he has been lurking around the leaders all week and worked his way into the final pairing on a course where he won in 2000.
Its fun to be in the last group, Mickelson said. Im looking forward to it. I know its going to be difficult. Im spotting Sergio three shots. I know how well hes been playing, so itll be a difficult round for me to get it done.
Camilo Villegas had a 69 and was at 3-under 207, while Ben Curtis (68) and Robert Allenby (67) were another shot back.