CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Rickie Fowler tamed lightning-fast greens to vault into a one-shot lead after the third round at the Wells Fargo Championship on Saturday.
The American matched the best score of the day, a four-under-par 68 on a Quail Hollow course that turned into a beast as low humidity and a stiff breeze dried out the greens and caused nightmares for the late starters.
World number five Fowler, who recorded his first PGA Tour victory here in 2012, will start the final round at nine-under 207, with fellow American Roberto Castro (71) alone at eight-under after bogeying the last.
Englishman Justin Rose and American James Hahn are two shots behind, while halfway leader Andrew Loupe double-bogeyed the brutal par-four 18th to fall three strokes off the pace.
Phil Mickelson fared even worse at the last. His hopes were literally washed away when he ran up a quadruple bogey after yanking his second shot into the creek.
He shot 76 to plunge eight strokes from the lead, in a tie for 19th with, among others, Australian Adam Scott and 2015 champion Rory McIlroy, whose chances of successfully defending all but disappeared.
Fowler has won once this year, on the European Tour, and had a playoff loss in the U.S. at the Phoenix Open.
“It was nice to drive it well,” Fowler said after carrying his tee shot more than 300 yards at the par-four 18th.
“That’s going to be a positive going into tomorrow. And I’ve continued to swing it better and better as the tournament’s gone on.
“It wasn’t very good the first two days and nice to finally get into a little bit of a rhythm out there today and hopefully it’s even better tomorrow.”
Fowler added that he eagerly anticipated even tougher conditions on Sunday, with the greens expected to continue to dry out after heavy rain earlier in the week.
“You’re going to have to be in control of your golf ball, especially out of the fairway. You’re not going to be able to play this golf course out of the rough tomorrow,” he said.
McIlroy, meanwhile, made a monster curling 80-foot birdie putt at the 17th, but the rest of his round was less impressive as he again struggled with his driver.
“Maybe (I am) a little bit too far back, but at least I can go out there tomorrow and try to give it my all and try to post a good one,” he said after carding 73.
Editing by Steve Keating.