Patrick Reed and Danny Willett each put on a green jacket the last time they won a tournament. Now they have their eyes set on another significant prize this weekend in Dubai.
Reed, the reigning Masters champion, and Willett, who won that event two years earlier, closed Saturday at 14-under 202 and will enter the final day of the European Tour's season-ending DP World Tour Championship as co-leaders.
Willett, one stroke off the lead after the second round, shot a four-under-par 68 while Reed carded a five-under 67. They are one stroke ahead of Jordan Smith.
Lee Westwood, who won the Nedbank Challenge last week, shot a 65 to move into a tie for fourth place with Dean Burmester.
Reed, who had just one three-putt bogey — on the long par-three fourth hole — made four birdies when the wind started picking up on the 7,675-yard Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
“I feel good,” said Reed, who entered the week ranked 17th in the world. “I feel like the consistency of my game is where it needs to be. You're always going to have hot flashes here and there and you're always going to have kind of low points.
“I feel like my low points are getting better, and they are more manageable and I can miss the golf ball where I need to miss it. When you can do that, you're able to eliminate a lot of the big mistakes and keep the bogeys off the card and I think that's key.”
Reed, who said winning would be “a little early Christmas gift,” will have to get past a resurgent Willett, was ranked No. 462 in May but entered the event 276th.
Willett was one under through 13 holes before making three consecutive birdies for a 68.
“It would be nice to win, but there's a lot of golf left,” Willett said. “A lot can happen in 18 holes.
“I'm just happy with the golf game. The body is feeling good, and it's been a long old year with all the stuff that's gone on — and for this to be the last event this year with a field this good is a real bonus. I am going to go out and try to play some good golf (on Sunday).”
Although the tournament remains poised for an exciting finish, the fate of the Race to Dubai was almost sealed on the penultimate day of the season when Tommy Fleetwood, needing to win to retain the title over Francesco Molinari, slumped to a 74 and fell eight shots behind the leaders.
Molinari shot a 70 to move to five under, tied for 27th place and just one shot behind Fleetwood.
“I feel the adrenaline might have gone now,” Fleetwood said, seemingly conceding the race. “I think you kind of know when your time's up. I lasted within two days of the season. It was going to be a stretch trying to win it, but it is what it is. I'll play (Sunday) and we'll see how we do, but it's fine.” Three-time European No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is attempting to win the tournament a third time — carded a 71 to fall into a tie for 13th with a 207.
Lexi Thompson has control of the CME Group Tour Championship, and Ariya Jutanugarn is in control of just about everything else.
Thompson's four-under 68 pushed her to 16-under after three rounds of the LPGA's season-ending event, as she moved three shots clear of Nelly Korda and six ahead than Carlota Ciganda at Tiburon Golf Club. Korda shot her second consecutive 67 to get to 13 under, and Ciganda grinded out a 69 to get to 10 under for the week.
Thompson has been nearly flawless this week. Her only dropped shot of the tournament came Saturday when she made bogey at the par-four fourth hole, then put together five birdies over the remainder of her round.
If Thompson hangs on Sunday, she'll have her first win of the season. If Jutanugarn keeps things together, she'll leave with plenty of prizes as well.
Charles Howell III had a two-under 68 for a one-shot lead in the RSM Classic, along with a reminder that winning for the first time in more than 11 years won't be easy.
With two quick birdies, Howell stretched his lead to five shots. By the end of the third round, his lead was down to one shot over PGA Tour rookie Cameron Champ and Jason Gore, who each shot 66 and made up ground on the back nine of the Seaside course at Sea Island.