Miami - Adam Scott has moved within reach of a wire-to-wire victory Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, one that would all-but ensure he overtakes Tiger Woods for the world number one ranking.
Scott, the reigning Masters champion and first Australian to capture the green jacket, struggled to a one-under par 71 Saturday but held a three-stroke lead after the third round at Bay Hill.
Scott, who led by a tournament-record seven strokes when the day began, stood on 15-under 201 after 54 holes with American Keegan Bradley second on 204.
"It was tough," Scott said. "I got off to a tough start and fought my way back all day."
Scott, at Bay Hill for the first time since missing the cut in 2009, matched the course record with a 62 Thursday and equaled the 36-hole mark by following with a 68 Friday.
"They don't just hand you PGA titles after 36 holes," Scott said. "Everybody was making a run. I was battling but I'm in good shape for tomorrow."
With 14-time major champion Woods absent due to a back injury that has jeopardized his chances of playing next month's Masters, Scott would move just behind the American with a victory this week.
If neither Woods nor Scott play again before the Masters, as is expected, then a Bay Hill title would ensure Scott would become world number one for the first time in his career on the Monday before he defends his first major title, based upon points dropping off at the back end of the two-year ranking cycle.
Americans Matt Every and Jason Kokrak shared third on 205 with Italy's Francesco Molinari and American Chesson Hadley on 206 and England's Ian Poulter seventh on 208.
Scott opened with a bogey, had three birdies and two bogeys over the last six holes and sank a clutch seven-foot par putt at 18, a hole on which he made bogey each of the first two days.
A nightmare start for Scott saw his tournament-record lead of seven strokes entering the weekend reduced to a single shot after only the first 70 minutes of play.
Scott opened with a bogey, missing an eight-foot par putt, and took another at the fifth, faltering on an 11-footer for par.
Hadley, meanwhile, had a torrid start with four birdies in the first six holes to reach 11-under and move just one stroke behind Scott.
But just when things looked bleakest for Scott, momentum swung again as Hadley found a bunker at the par-3 seventh and took a bogey while Scott made a tap-in birdie at the par-5 sixth, boosting his lead back to three strokes.
Scott began the back nine with a birdie and when he sank a 16-foot birdie putt at 13, the Aussie moved ahead by five.
A seven-foot par putt miss at the par-3 14th trimmed Scott's edge but he answered with a 24-foot birdie putt at the 15th and a five-foot birdie putt at the par-5 16th, keeping his advantage at five strokes despite late charges from rivals.
At the par-3 17th, Scott was just off the green and chipped six feet past the cup but missed the par putt coming back.
That dropped Scott to 15-under, only three in front of Bradley, and the Aussie had yet to play the 18th, which he bogeyed each of the first two days.
At the last, Scott rammed a 23-foot birdie putt seven feet past the hole but sank the tension-packed par putt.
Bradley is confident on the greens as he prepares to join Scott in Sunday's last duo.
"I've been hitting the ball nicely all week but today the putter got going and that has really made a difference," he said. "I was trying to be more relaxed and more confident on the greens and it worked.
"I know tomorrow I'm going to have to go out and shoot a really low score because Adam is playing well and he is one of the best players in the world, but these are the sort of rounds you live for."
Leading scores on Saturday after the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational (par 72, USA unless noted):
201 - Adam Scott (AUS) 62-68-71
204 - Keegan Bradley 71-67-66
205 - Matt Every 69-70-66, Jason Kokrak 67-71-67
206 - Chesson Hadley 69-68-69, Francesco Molinari (ITA) 67-70-69
208 - Ian Poulter (ENG) 68-71-69
209 - Ryo Ishikawa (JPN) 65-74-70, Morgan Hoffmann 67-71-71, Freddie Jacobson (SWE) 71-68-70, JB Holmes 68-69-72
210 - Pat Perez 70-70-70, Erik Compton 72-68-70, Aaron Baddeley (AUS) 70-70-70
211 - Matt Jones (AUS) 71-71-69, Henrik Stenson (SWE) 69-73-69, Sam Saunders 69-71-71, Charles Howell 68-71-72
212 - Graeme McDowell (NIR) 68-77-67, Davis Love 70-73-69, George McNeill 71-72-69, Patrick Reed 69-73-70, Brendan Steele 68-74-70, Kevin Na 70-71-71, Trevor Immelman (RSA) 69-72-71, Kevin Chappell 71-70-71, Brandt Snedeker 67-71-74, Jamie Donaldson (WAL) 67-71-74