Reigning U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell, who sat atop the leaderboard after the first two rounds, shot a respectable, 4-under 68 on Saturday. He is tied for second place with 2002 winner Padraig Harrington, who posted a third-round 65, at minus-13.
Tournament host and defending champion Tiger Woods managed a 3-under 69 on Saturday. He moved into a tie for 10th place at 3-under-par 213, but knew that a few more birdies could have put some worry into the leaders.
'I was trying to make three more,' acknowledged Woods, who is a two-time winner. 'If I could have gotten to 6 or 7 (under par), I might have had a really good chance tomorrow.'
The one with the best chance on Sunday is Woods' buddy, Clarke.
He started off poorly with a bogey at the first, but reclaimed the lost stroke one hole later. Clarke parred his next two, but ran home a 5-footer for eagle at the fifth. He drained a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 6 to reach 9 under par and get within one of the lead.
Clarke only managed pars around the turn, including an amazing par at seven when he had to take an unplayable lie penalty, but still trailed by a single shot. He assumed the lead at the par-5 11th when his second shot stopped 6 feet from the hole. Clarke converted the eagle try to get to 11 under par.
Campbell eagled the same hole a group later to move back into first by one. Clarke took advantage of the next par-5, the 13th, as he kicked in a short birdie try to tie the U.S. Open champion. Campbell gave Clarke the lead as he three-putted from 9 feet at 13, including a lip out for par.
Clarke's outstanding play at the par-5s continued at the 16th. His second flew right at the stick, but rolled 12 feet past the cup. He missed his eagle try left, but tapped in for birdie and a two-shot lead.
Clarke hit a mammoth drive down the 18th fairway and his sand-wedge approach hit the slope long of the pin and rolled back to 7 feet. He holed that putt to get into the clubhouse at minus-14.
'I've been playing nicely for a while, so it was good to go out there and shoot a good number,' said Clarke. 'I've had five eagles on the par-5s. I've never done that before.'
Campbell closed strongly to get within one. His 8-iron tee shot at the 17th sailed over the green left, but kicked back on to the green, eight feet short of the hole. He rolled that in, then sank a 15-footer from the fringe for a birdie at the closing hole.
The player that made up the most ground on the back nine Saturday was Harrington. He was 2 under par on his third round after 10 holes, but went on a birdie run.
The Irishman collected back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14, then pulled within one of Clarke's lead with a short birdie putt at 16. After Clarke birdied 18, Harrington followed with an approach that landed 6 feet from the stick. Harrington drained the birdie try and is in position to join Woods and Davis Love III as multiple winners of this event.
The problem is Harrington's Ryder Cup teammate, Clarke. The man from Northern Ireland has as much winning experience in the United States as any foreign player in the field with victories at the 2000 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and the 2003 WGC-NEC Invitational.
Although Clarke conceded he has played well recently, he seemed to be shocked at the way things are coming together this week.
'I don't know what's going on. Usually this week for me is a little bit of a party week, but my scoring is getting in the way of that,' said Clarke. 'I'm going to have to stay sensible again tonight. Hopefully I'll go out and play the same again tomorrow.'
Luke Donald (68) is alone in fifth place at minus-8, followed by Fred Couples (70), who is sixth at 7-under-par 209. Tim Clark (69) and Chris DiMarco (70) are knotted in seventh place at minus-6.
Thomas Bjorn shot a 2-under 70 and is ninth at 5-under-par 211. Woods, David Howell (73) and David Toms (70) share 10th at minus-3.
Fred Funk (69) and Jim Furyk (73) are tied for 13th at 2-under-par 214. Colin Montgomerie, who won in Hong Kong last weekend, carded a 3-under 69 and is 15th at minus-1. Love shot a 73 and is last at even-par 216.