PARAMUS New Jersey Jason Day, proud of how he handled his nerves, rebounded from a double-bogey at the 13th with three birdies in the last four holes to grab a share of the lead after the third round of The Barclays on Saturday.
The Australian signed off with a 10-foot birdie putt at the last to card a three-under 68 at Ridgewood Country Club, finishing level with American Jim Furyk (69) at nine-under 204 in the opener of the PGA Tour's four-event FedExCup playoffs.
"I am very proud of how I handled my nerves today," the 26-year-old Day, who lost a ball in thick rough after trying to lay up on the par-five 13th, told CBS Sports.
"With the double-bogey on the par-five, I could have lost it but I kind of stuck in there and played some good golf coming in."
Hunter Mahan (68) was alone in third at eight under, a stroke in front of seven players who included fellow Americans Matt Kuchar (68) and Cameron Tringale (72), the latter having been tied for the second-round lead with Australian Adam Scott.
World number two Scott endured a frustrating day on the challenging A.W. Tillinghast layout where danger was ever present because of lush rough and slick greens, struggling to a 75 to slide five shots of the pace.
Top-ranked Rory McIlroy, on a sizzling three-tournament winning streak that included major triumphs at the British Open and PGA Championship, was level with Scott at four under after carding a 70.
Day, who clinched his second PGA Tour victory at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in late February, was delighted to be in contention for another title after making a mess of both par-fives after the turn.
"I got off to a great start and then the back nine happened and the par-fives happened," said the world number nine, who was one of seven players who held at least a share of the lead during the third round.
Day bogeyed the par-five 17th after ending up in a greenside bunker with his second shot, though he sandwiched that hiccup with birdies at the 15th, 16th and 18th.
"It's a little frustrating just thinking about it because those are the holes (the par-fives) you want to take advantage of and I clearly lost shots to the field there," he said. "I am really excited to get back into contention again."
While Day took a roller-coaster ride to the top of the leaderboard, PGA Tour veteran Furyk followed a very different route, staying patient as he ground out a flawless round that was highlighted by birdies at the 13th and 16th.
"Those holes, six through 12, are pretty difficult and I gave myself a lot of really good birdie opportunities through that stretch but wasn't able to convert," said the 44-year-old, FedExCup champion in 2010.
"I really played patient today, bided my time and was able to make birdies on 13 and 16. It was a really solid round."
Furyk has not triumphed on the PGA Tour since his victory at the 2010 Tour Championship earned him FedExCup honors but has come close this season with three runner-up spots in 17 starts.
"My goal really is to go out there tomorrow and not look at the leaderboard, just go play my own game, my own style and hopefully get that putter a little hotter earlier than today," he said.
Northern Irishman McIlroy, seeking a fourth consecutive victory on the PGA Tour, birdied two of his first five holes but failed to maintain that momentum before finishing up five strokes off the pace.
For the second day in a row, five-times major champion Phil Mickelson sliced his tee shot on the short par-four fifth hole onto a hospitality dining deck and did well to scramble a par there after hitting his ball off the artificial turf floor.
However, the American left-hander struggled on the back nine, dropping five shots on the way to a 75 and a five-over total of 218 as he missed the 54-hole cut.
The top 100 players on the FedExCup points list after The Barclays qualify for next week's Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston where the leading 70 will advance to the Sep. 4-7 BMW Championship.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry)