SHANGHAI – Starting the third round with the lead, Fredrik Jacobson kept his mistakes to a minimum, knocked in long birdie putts on consecutive holes and wound up with a 5-under 67 and a two-shot lead. It still wasn't enough to shake a world-class leaderboard at the HSBC Champions.
The final World Golf Championship of the year is living up to its billing.
"Everyone is going to be pumped up because it's a great leaderboard going into the final round," Louis Oosthuizen said. "I think everyone wants that title, so you are going to see some good golf."
It already has been a treat in many ways over three rounds at Sheshan International.
Jacobson broke by two shots the 54-hole tournament record and was at 16-under 200 as he tries to win for the second time this year. As soft as it has been, this is no time to play conservatively.
Two shots behind was Oosthuizen, a British Open champion at St. Andrews, who birdied his last hole for a 68.
Joining them in the final group is Adam Scott, a former winner of The Players Championship, Tour Championship and a World Golf Championship. Despite growing controversy of his caddie Steve Williams' racial slur about Tiger Woods at a private party, Scott went on a birdie-birdie-eagle finish to salvage a 69 and was only three behind.
"A 69 didn't distract me too badly in the end today," Scott said.
Right behind them were U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy (65) and former world No. 1 Lee Westwood (67) at 12-under 204, with former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell (67) and former PGA champion Martin Kaymer (68) another shot back.
No other WGC this year has had so many stars on the leaderboard going into the last day.
The unknown in all this is Jacobson. His lone PGA Tour win came this year at the Travelers Championship. Kaymer knew little about that win, and not much more about the Swede, when he raised questions about how Jacobson would stand up to the Sunday pressure.
"If I play my game, maybe I can put a little pressure on him and make it tougher for him," Kaymer said.
Luke Donald can probably breathe a little easier. His wife is expecting their second child, keeping him home from Shanghai. His hopes of winning PGA Tour player of the year depended largely on whether PGA champion Keegan Bradley could add a WGC to his amazing year. Bradley, however, had to settle for a 72 and was seven shots behind.
The pressure now shifts to Jacobson.
He looked as though he would have a comfortable margin when he knocked in a 30-foot birdie putt on the 13th, then picked up another bonus with a 40-foot birdie putt on the par-5 14th. Jacobson had to settle for four pars coming, while Oosthuizen and Scott made a late run to at least close the gap.
"It feels a lot better than playing from behind the rest of the guys because when you're behind you know you have to shoot a low number," Jacobson said. "Leading, I've still got to shoot a good score, but they will have to catch me. I sometimes feel a little bit stressed if I start off a few shots behind."
Oosthuizen started showing some form toward the end of the season, and with more confidence in his putting on such good greens, is close enough to think about winning.
Scott remains the curious one for so many reasons.
He is trying to join Woods and Phil Mickelson as the only player to win multiple World Golf Championships in the same season, and this has a few similarities to his win at Firestone — mostly his caddie. Scott shared — if not lost — some of the spotlight to Williams that day when his caddie gave a TV interview on the 18th green and called it the "best win of my life."
That was a dig at Woods, who officially fired him two weeks earlier, and Williams wanted to tweak him. He did more than that at a caddies award party Friday night, when he was given the "Celebration of the Year" award for that Firestone interview.
Asked about his exuberance while getting his award, Williams said, "It was my aim to shove it right up that black a------."
Williams apologized to Woods and others who took his remarks as racist by putting out a statement Saturday morning. If there was turbulence for Scott, it came on the front nine when he twice made soft bogeys, then tried to hit a ball out of the creek and left it in the water on the par-5 eighth, leading to double bogey.
Scott more than made up for it at the end — a wedge to tap-in range on the 16th, a 5-iron to 8 feet for birdie on the 17th, and a wedge that spun back into the cup for eagle on the final hole.
"Managed to have a great finish and keep myself in the game for tomorrow, which is good," Scott said. "Because for a while, I was so far away and felt like I wasted the week on a few bad swings."
Scott said he was satisfied with Williams' apology and had no plans to fire him.
Meanwhile, some drama was playing out in the group behind him. McIlroy appears to have had a mild falling out with Westwood. Both were part of International Sports Management until McIlroy abruptly left Chubby Chandler's group a few weeks ago to join the agency that represents McDowell — who will be the third in their group.
Westwood referred to it as a "bizarre decision" by McIlroy, and the 22-year-old from Northern Ireland stopped following Westwood. All this took place on Twitter. They will be with each other for 18 holes on Sunday, along with McIlroy's girlfriend — Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 1 player in women's tennis — walking inside the ropes as a special guest.