World No. 1 Tiger Woods picked up a shot on Howell as he fired a 5-under 67 to get to 15-under-par 201. Woods was joined there by Nick O'Hern, who also carded a 67 on Saturday.
World No. 2 Vijay Singh is alone in eighth place at minus-10 after posting a 2-under 70 in round three.
Howell birdied the par-5 second for the third straight day to open his round. He parred his next four holes before a birdie on the seventh got him to 14 under and two strokes clear of Woods.
The Englishman drove into a hazard at the next, but eventually made a 20-foot putt to save bogey. Howell ran home a long birdie putt at the ninth. He made it two straight with a birdie at the 10th.
Howell parred his next two holes. He then drained a 30-foot birdie putt on the 13th to move to 16 under. Howell missed a couple short birdie tries coming in as he closed with five pars in a row.
'I don't know him overly well,' said Howell of Woods, who he will be paired with in the final round. 'I've played with him a couple of times and had dinner with him a couple of times though.'
Woods, like Howell, birdied No. 2 for the third straight round. He sank a 12- footer for birdie at the sixth to get to minus-12.
The 29-year-old three-putted for bogey at nine. Around the turn, Woods made back-to-back birdie putts from the 11th to move to 13 under.
Woods eagled the par-5 14th from 30 feet away to get within one of Howell. However, Woods drove right off the tee at the next and missed the green long in a bunker.
He was unable to get up and down for par dropping him back to minus-14. Woods two-putted for birdie at the last to get back within one of Howell.
'I put some pieces of my game together last week, and this is just a continuation of that into this week,' Woods said. 'I didn't hit it well on the front nine Friday, but made an adjustment there and all of a sudden I am back to where I should be.'
O'Hern birdied the third and sank a birdie putt from 10 feet away on the ninth to make the turn at 12 under. He parred the first five holes of the back nine.
The Australian birdied the 15th and 16th to get within two of Howell. O'Hern nearly chipped in for eagle at the last, but settled for a tap-in birdie and a share of second place.
Jean-Francois Remesy is alone in ninth place at 9-under-par 207 after a third-round 70. Paul Casey and Lian-Wei Zhang each stumbled to 1-over 73s on Saturday and are one shot back at minus-8.