Kuala Lumpur: Title holder Ryan Moore of the United States shot a five-under-par 67 on Saturday to share the third round lead with countryman Kevin Na as he stood on the brink of becoming the first man to successfully defend the CIMB Classic.
Moore rolled in seven birdies at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club for a three-day total of 12-under-par 204 and was joined atop the leaderboard by former Asian Tour Rookie of the Year Na, who surged into contention with a bogey free 67.
World number four Sergio Garcia of Spain produced some wonderful par saves on his inward nine as he fired a 68 to share third spot with overnight leader Billy Hurley III, who carded a 71. They will enter the final round one stroke back in the US$7 million showpiece sanctioned by the Asian Tour and PGA TOUR.
Korea's Bae Sang-moon, who is a three-time Asian Tour winner and double PGA TOUR champion, is amongst those on 207 after a 68 while Asian Tour regular Angelo Que of the Philippines ended the third day in a share of ninth place following a 69.
"I've just been able to play good, solid, consistent golf so far, just putting it on the fairway, giving myself chances and I've been fortunate enough to make some putts. So in the end that's why I'm here," said Moore, who won last year's title in a Monday play-off against Gary Woodland.
The 31-year-old Moore, a three-time winner, turned in 34 and following a two-hour weather suspension, he brilliantly birdied 11 and 12 which are amongst the trickiest holes at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club's West course.
"A big highlight was I birdied 11 and 12. I just hit a great shot into 11 with a hybrid to about maybe 20 feet or so and then hit a six iron into 12 to maybe 25, 28 feet, something like that, and I was able to make that one too.
"You know, I've been here, I've done it on this course, and so that should just give me that little extra going into tomorrow. I know what it's like to win out here and I'm going to try and make that happen again," said Moore.
Na, who is of Korean parentage, has fond memories of Malaysia as he secured his maiden professional victory on the Asian Tour back in 2002 while he was still a teenager. With three birdies in a row from the third hole and back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14, the 31-year-old will be chasing down his second PGA TOUR title.
"It's always nice to play bogey free, and I thought if I shot 67, somewhere around in there, I'd be very close to the lead," said Na, who was the only player in the field who enjoyed a blemish-free card.
Na said it felt like only yesterday when he reflected on his first triumph in Asia all those years ago. "I remember my dad was caddying ... I was just a kid, made the turn and looked at the leaderboard and I was like, man, I looked at my dad and I was like, I've got a chance to win this tournament, and birdied 10, 11, 12 and 13 and had a two-shot lead. It wasn't the easiest last two holes coming in but I hung in there. I remember it like it was yesterday," said Na.
"When I turned pro, I came out to the Asian Tour and I got the experience, learned how to play competitively in the professional world. I won a tournament, which opened many, many doors for me and even got me into the World Golf Championship in Firestone."
Ryder Cup star Garcia produced some Houdini-like escapes as he saved pars on 12, 14 and 17, the last two after finding the hazards. After tinkering with the conventional putting grip this week, the Spaniard reverted back to 'the claw' grip midway through his third round and holed some important putts that kept him in the hunt.
"I just didn't feel as comfortable as the first two days. Hit a couple of putts early on and I just didn't feel that great, so I said, I'll just go back to my go-to kind of grip, and putted quite nicely," said Garcia, who is seeking a ninth PGA TOUR title.
"I'm going to have to play a little bit better. I'm in contention, so we'll go out and give it our best shot, try to be aggressive, try to be positive."
Filipino Que, runner-up in Hong Kong two weeks ago, will be hoping to launch a title charge on Sunday where he will start the final round four back of the leaders. He began his third round with four straight birdies from the second hole before adding one more birdie against two bogeys for a 69.
"My goal is still the same, just shoot under par. I'll keep it simple. I'm not going to try hard to shoot low. I'm just going to keep playing the way I'm playing because I'm making a lot of birdies, so I'll just keep doing that and hopefully, with a little bit of luck, I'll go really low," said the three-time Asian Tour champion.
The CIMB Classic, which is also sanctioned by the Professional Golf Association of Malaysia, is part of the season-long PGA TOUR FedExCup competition. The event was inaugurated in 2010 and is the only official PGA TOUR event to be held in Southeast Asia.