Twenty-two players are within four strokes of Love's 54-hole lead, including Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Love broke from a six-way tie at the top by birdying the par-five 18th on the South Course at Torrey Pines to take a one-shot advantage at 14-under-par.
Love's two-under-par 70 was good enough to give him sole possession of the lead over Greg Kraft (66), Mike Weir (68), Frank Lickliter (68), Brent Geiberger (70) and Mickelson (71).
Woods headlines a group of four players tied for seventh place. Woods carded a bogey-free 67 to tie David Morland IV (68), Jay Don Blake (68) and Dennis Paulson (69) at 12-under-par.
Love and Mickelson each had a chance to separate themselves from the pack in the third round. Instead, they allowed the field to close in.
Mickelson got off to a hot start on a cold, overcast day in La Jolla, Calif., by birdying the second and sinking a 35-foot eagle putt at the par-five sixth. Entering the seventh, the defending champion was three-up at 15-under-par.
Then disaster struck.
Mickelson duck-hooked his tee shot on the par-four seventh into a eucalyptus tree. The ball stuck in the branches, but thanks to a pair of binoculars, Mickelson was able to identify his ball. He took a penalty drop and eventually made double bogey.
The defending champion quickly recovered those two lost shots by birdying the eighth and ninth holes, but once again ran into trouble at the par-three 11th. Mickelson missed the green to the right off the tee and then chipped 20 feet short of the hole. He carded a bogey to drop to 14-under.
Last year, Mickelson led by four strokes through six holes of the final round, but double bogeyed the seventh and 11th holes. He rallied, however, to win comfortably.
Such was not the case this Saturday. Mickelson badly missed a five-foot par putt at the par-three 16th, then popped up his drive on the par-five 18th and made par.
Love never really got it going in the third round. His day started with a two-foot par putt that lipped out on the first hole. He recorded only four birdies, three of which came on the reachable par-fives.
Yet, the birdie at the last was enough to give him not only outright possession of the lead, but a spot in the final threesome.
'I actually rolled the ball pretty good,' said Love. 'I'm not happy with my score. Maybe tomorrow everything can come together.'
Love will play in Sunday's final group with Kraft and Weir. Kraft eagled the 18th to finish at 13-under, while Weir notched four consecutive birdies beginning at the eighth en route to his 68.
While Woods is facing his smallest deficit this year going into the final round, he could have easily been closer. Tiger sprayed several drives and iron shots, but, thanks to a steady putter, managed to record five birdies without making a bogey.
'I just didn't hit the ball that well,' Woods said. 'If I can hit it like yesterday and putt like I did today, it would be a great combination. This game is very fickle.'
Love would agree.
After 62 starts without a victory, Love has a chance to win in back-to-back events. Last week, he overcame a seven-shot final-round deficit by shooting 63 to win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
This time, he'll play from the lead position, but will do so well aware of what's behind him.
'Anything can happen,' said Love, 'It's going to be an interesting tournament.'
News, Notes and Numbers
*Only three of the 85 players who made the cut are over par for the tournament.
*Frank Lickliter played his final three holes in four-under-par. He birdied the 16th and 18th holes, and holed his approach shot at the par-four 17th for an eagle.
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