At 10-under, Hughes holds the slightest of advantages over David Duval, Frank Lickliter and Chris Riley. Four others, including Loren Roberts, are two shots off the lead at 8-under-par.
'I wanted to be leading, but not that way,' Hughes said following his 1-over-par 72. 'It was a horrible start, but it wasn't the end of the day.'
Beginning the day with a three-shot cushion over David Sutherland, Hughes bogeyed the par-4 1st. He then bogeyed the par-3 2nd; then the par-5 3rd; then the par-4 4th.
Hughes finally stopped the bleeding with a par 3 at the 5th. He even managed to reclaim a stroke before making the turn by birdying the 7th. But just as the Australian was beginning to settle down, he double-bogeyed the par-4 10th. Now at 6-under-par, Hughes had gone from three up to three down on the leaderboard.
While Hughes was once again hemorrhaging, others took turns sharing the top spot at the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va., though no one was able to pull away.
Duval birdied the 11th and 12th holes to temporarily take the outright lead, but bogeyed the 14th to fall to 9-under-par.
Lickliter birdied the 16th to tie Duval at 9-under, and then grabbed the lead by his lonesome with a second-straight birdie at the par-3 17th. However, a bogey at the home hole dropped him back into a tie with Duval at 9-under.
Riley joined the fray by birdying three consecutive holes beginning at the 15th. That trio of birdies was good enough for a round of 3-under-par 68, and a 9-under-par total through 54 holes.
Once again, Duval moved in front by two-putting for birdie at the par-5 15th. But three putts at the par-4 16th dropped him back to 9-under with Riley and Lickliter; where he finished the day.
Playing alongside Hughes, Sutherland quietly leapfrogged the pack by birdying the 14th and 16th holes. He was now at 10-under-par and in sole possession of the lead, but it was Hughes who was making all the noise.
The 33-year-old Aussie birdied the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th holes to reclaim a share of the lead.
Playing in the final group, Sutherland and Hughes entered the 18th deadlocked at 10-under, one shot clear of the field. Hughes found the fairway off the tee, while Sutherland found trouble. The 34-year-old Californian pushed his tee shot way right. From there he was forced to pitch back into the fairway; however, another poor shot ensued. Three putts later, Sutherland carded a double-bogey 6 to drop to 8-under-par.
Hughes was also in danger of dropping at least one shot. The five-time winner in Australia came up woefully short of the green on his approach shot, and was faced with an 18-foot putt to save par - which he did.
'It's probably good (I made that putt) in that now I am in the last group,' said Hughes, who is 126th on the money list. 'If I had missed that, I would have been second or third to the last group, I guess. It is nice. Everyone has to catch up on me.'
Putting was Hughes' primary problem early in the round. It was also his savior down the stretch.
'I just had no touch early on with my short putts and they were all left-to-right putts and I just started outside the hole. Then I would overcompensate and pushed a couple. And then 14, 15, 16 and 17 were all right-to-left putts and I put them in. So I have to try and remember that tomorrow.'
After his round, Duval made a trip to the fitness trailer. In just his second event following a 10-week layoff due to an ailing back, Duval said his back muscles became fatigued on Saturday.
'It is not a problem,' stated Duval, who shot 2-under-par 69 in the third round. 'It shouldn't be a problem tomorrow.'
Duval is coming off his first victory in over a year at last week's Buick Challenge. He is also a two-time winner of this event (1997, 98).