Under calm conditions, Rory Sabbatini fired a flawless 8-under-par 65 to turn a four-shot overnight deficit into a two-stroke advantage entering the final round at the par-73 Plantation Course in Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii.
At 16-under, Sabbatini has supplanted his countryman, Ernie Els, at the top of the leaderboard. In fact, Els has fallen from four-up to four-down following an even-par 73 in the third round. The two-time U.S. Open champion slipped from outright first into a share of third place with Jim Furyk(69) at 12-under-par, two shots back of Vijay Singh.
The reigning Masters champion birdied each of his final four holes in the third round to climb to 14-under for the tournament, thus earning a spot in Sunday's final pairing.
Four players are five off the pace at 11-under, including Paul Azinger (68), who was within two strokes of the lead before topping his second shot at the par-5 15th and taking double bogey.
Saturday, Sabbatini recorded six birdies over his first 15 holes, yet it was still Els who was in control of the tournament. The elder South African birdied his final four holes on the front nine to maintain his four-stroke advantage over the field.
Then everything fell apart.
Els played the two par-5s on the back nine in 3-over-par, twice having to take penalty drops because of errant tee shots. He added another bogey at the 12th hole for an inward half of 41.
Els led throughout the day, until he bogeyed the par-5 15th to fall into a tie for first with Sabbatini. Then, before he could even make his way to the 16th tee, Els found himself trailing by two.
Less than a minute removed from Els' bogey at the 15th, Sabbatini holed a wedge approach shot at the par-4 16th. The result was a three-shot swing and a two-stroke lead for the younger statesman.
'I wasn't trying to hole it,' Sabbatini later said. 'I just wanted to get it up there and give myself a chance.'
That moved Sabbatini to 16-under, where he finished the day after tapping in for par on the home hole, a hole that Els would eventually double-bogey.
Said Els after his round: 'I had a four-shot lead coming in here and now I'm four shots behind. It seemed to happen in just seconds. But, yeah, I can turn it around tomorrow.'
This is Sabbatini's first visit to Kapalua; and he seems to be handling the grainy greens quite well. The 24-year-old qualified for the event by winning last year's Air Canada Championship. Another day like today and he can add a second Tour trophy to his mantle.
'It was one of those days where everything seems to go your way,' Sabbatini said. 'I'm just going to go into tomorrow, have some fun and, I guess, God will determine the outcome.'
As for Tiger Woods, the defending champion is eight shots off the lead at 8-under-par. Paired with David Duval, Woods shot a 6-birdie, one-bogey 68 on Saturday, three strokes higher than that recorded by Duval.
The 1999 Mercedes champion posted eight birdies to nary a bogey to tie Sabbatini for the tournament's low score, an 8-under-par 65. Duval stands at 10-under for the tournament, six off the lead.
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