Eric Axley shared the low round of the day with his 6-under 66. He stands alongside Steven Bowditch (70) at 7-under-par 209. Jon Mills, who was one of three leaders after the opening round, struggled to a 1-over 73. He is alone in fourth place at minus-6.
Jerry Smith posted the other 66 on Saturday. That got him to 5-under-par 211, where he was joined by Peter Tomasulo and Jim McGovern on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail at Capitol Hill.
This event features the top-61 players on the 2005 Nationwide Tour money list. Jason Gore, second on the money list, already made it to the PGA Tour via the 'battlefield promotion,' so the top-20 other players on the money list after the final round will head to the PGA Tour for the 2006 season.
Branshaw is 29th on the money list and needs a big finish this week to earn his playing privileges on the PGA Tour next year. He got off to a quick start with a birdie on the second.
The 36-year-old sank another birdie try on the fourth to get to 10 under, which was four strokes clear of Mills and McGovern at the time. Branshaw moved to 11 under with a birdie on No. 8. He kept rolling with a birdie on the par-4 11th.
He tripped to his first bogey at the par-4 14th when he missed a 5-foot par putt. Branshaw atoned for that mistake with a birdie on the 15th to get back to 12 under.
Branshaw stumbled to the second bogey of his round on the 16th after his tee shot to the par-3 found a greenside bunker. He parred his final two holes to lead by four after three rounds.
'It was a good round,' said Branshaw. 'I was fortunate to shoot 69. What made it hard was pretty much every putt I had was downhill putts.'
In the first 12 Tour Championships, seven of the 12 36-hole leaders have gone on to win the title. Branshaw is looking to make that eight of 13. A win would guarantee him his PGA Tour card for next year.
'Tomorrow will be a hard day, but you've got to put that out of your mind and just play golf,' Branshaw said. 'I'm good at having the same mindset for each tournament. I'd like to get in a fog tomorrow and be oblivious to everything going on.'
Axley began the day seven strokes behind Branshaw. He didn't look like he'd be flying into contention as he played his first five holes in 1 over. Axley righted the ship with birdies on Nos. 6 and 8 to move to 2 under.
Around the turn, Axley drained another birdie try at the 10th. After a bogey on 12, he really caught fire. The left-hander converted consecutive birdies from the 13th to get to 4 under. Axley then eagled 17 and birdied 18th to jump to 7 under within four of Branshaw.
'I've made a few more putts after that poor first round,' Axley said. 'I've been taking it one shot at a time. First things first, hit the fairway, then try to put it in the right position on the green and try to make a putt. I'm just trying to execute each shot and whatever comes of it, we'll go from there.'
Bowditch, who won the Jacob's Creek Open earlier this season, birdied the sixth and eight to make the turn at minus-7. He picked up another stroke on the 11th with the third birdie of his round.
The Australian tripped to back-to-back bogeys from the 14th to slide back to 6 under. Bowditch got one of those strokes back with a birdie at the last.
Ryan Armour is alone in eighth place at 4-under-par 212 after a 73. Bubba Dickerson and Steve LeBrun are one stroke further back at minus-3.