'I wasn't feeling well at all Friday and it was a struggle,' said Stenson. 'I was tired coming up the last couple of holes yesterday, but I managed to finish birdie, birdie. And then I went and shot this score today, maybe I should keep this bug.'
World No. 11 and U.S. Ryder Cupper Chris DiMarco was hot himself. He posted a 9-under 63 to move within one shot of Stenson at minus-15. Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez carded a 64 to take third place at 14-under-par 202.
Ricardo Gonzalez is tied for fourth place at minus-13 after a 5-under 67. He was joined there by second-round leader Charl Schwartzel, who shot 68 on Saturday. Sergio Garcia is alone in sixth place at Abu Dhabi Golf Club at 12-under-par 204 after shooting 65 in the third round.
Saturday was a day for streaky golf. Stenson flew out of the gate and into the lead. He dropped in a birdie on the first and made it two straight with a birdie on the second.
Stenson kept going with birdies on three and four to get to 10 under. As he birdied No. 5 for his fifth straight birdie, Stenson took the lead at minus-11. Garcia, meanwhile, posted three birdies in a four-hole stretch from the second to move to 8 under.
Garcia birdied the eighth to keep up with Stenson. The Spaniard then birdied 10 and 11 to forge a tie for the lead at 11 under. Jimenez made it a three-man tie for the lead as he birdied five of six holes from the third.
Stenson moved out in front again with a birdie on the eighth, but dropped a shot on nine with a three-putt bogey. He sank a 3-foot eagle putt on the 10th to go one clear of Jimenez, who had birdied the 10th.
The Swede birdied No. 13 to move to minus-14. Jimenez, playing one group behind Stenson, birdied 12 and 13 to join Stenson at 14 under. Jimenez closed with five straight pars to remain there.
DiMarco, playing alongside Jimenez, had to fight back from early trouble. The American double bogeyed the first to fall to minus-4. He got those two strokes back with birdies on two and four.
The 37-year-old came back with birdies on eight and nine. DiMarco, whose last win anywhere came at the 2002 Phoenix Open on the PGA Tour, drained a 40-foot eagle putt at the par-5 10th to jump to 10 under.
DiMarco ran off four consecutive birdies from the 11th to move to minus-14 and a share of the lead with Jimenez and Stenson. DiMarco, once five shots back of the leader after his double bogey, birdied the par-4 16th to take the outright lead at 15 under.
'At some point in a run like I had around the turn, you've got to go, okay, obviously I'm hitting it good, so you have to just try to continue hit it great,' DiMarco said. 'I am pleased with my performance and I am pleased with where I am going into the final round.'
While DiMarco closed with back-to-back pars, Stenson eagled the par-5 closing hole to jump into the lead at minus-16 through three rounds.
'Obviously my ball striking is good when it's on, and that's why I've had some really good results recently,' Stenson said. 'I've been gradually improving my short game over the last couple of years. I'm just happy to be up and playing well early on in the season because I had my best year last year, and when you have a bit of winter break, you never know how it's going to start.'
Scotland's Colin Montgomerie notched a 7-under 65 to move into seventh place at 11-under-par 205. World No. 2 Vijay Singh had five birdies and two bogeys en route to a 3-under 69. He is alone at minus-9.
David Lynn is one stroke further back at 8-under-par 208 after a third-round 70. Ian Poulter, Francois Delamontagne and Robert Karlsson are tied for 10th at minus-7.