Alejandro Canizares finished with back-to- back birdies on Saturday and jumped into the lead after three rounds of the BMW PGA Championship.
Canizares, whose only European Tour win came at the 2006 Imperial Collection Russian Open, used those closing gains to post a 4-under 68 beneath sunny skies at Wentworth Club. The Spaniard sits at 9-under 207 through 54 holes, one stroke ahead of Lee Westwood, who carded a 67.
"This week I was just happy to be able to swing the club," said Canizares, who is playing in his first event since pulling out of the Volvo China Open at the start of the month with viral meningitis.
Twenty-year-old Matteo Manassero (69) and Marc Warren (70) share third place at 7-under, while Irishman Shane Lowry (69) is alone in fifth at minus-6.
Sergio Garcia remains in contention despite dealing with the scrutiny of his recent controversial remarks regarding Tiger Woods. The maligned Spaniard shot 68 on Saturday and moved into a tie for sixth place at 5-under.
Second-round leader Francesco Molinari (73) is also 5-under, as is his brother Edoardo (69).
Rainy and inclement weather beset the first two rounds of the tournament, but conditions calmed on Saturday, and as the skies cleared, jostling at the top of the leaderboard ensued.
Francesco Molinari, Canizares, the 40-year-old Westwood and Mark Foster vied for the top spot over the course of the day.
The overnight leader was undone by a disastrous stretch near the end of his outward nine, where he bogeyed No. 7, found the water and triple bogeyed No. 8, and bogeyed the par-4 ninth to fall off the pace. He bounced back with a bogey-free inward nine, carding a pair of birdies over that span to remain within striking distance.
Foster, who hasn't won on the circuit since his maiden victory at the 2003 Dunhill Championship, had sole possession of the lead through 13 holes, but he promptly stumbled to consecutive bogeys from the 14th and a double at the 16th before parring out to drop into a tie for sixth.
The world No. 12 Westwood was the next to jump in front. Looking to win the European Tour's flagship event for the first time in 20 starts, the Englishman highlighted his front nine with an eagle on the fourth, adding a birdie on the seventh for an outward 32.
Gains on the 12th and 14th gave Westwood the lead at 8-under, but he remained there courtesy of a bogey on No. 16, a birdie on the next, and a par on the last.
"I felt much more in tune with my swing and had a lot better distance and direction control with my irons and set up a lot of chances," said Westwood. "It was one of the most fun days I have ever had on a golf course."
As Westwood stayed put, Canizares, playing two groups behind, finished with a flurry.
The 30-year-old was bogey-free with a pair of birdies through his first nine holes and he added a back-to-back birdie run from the 11th to reach 9-under. Bogeys on Nos. 13 and 15 followed, but Canizares deftly recovered with gains on the penultimate and ultimate holes to jump in front.
"After the practice round on Tuesday I felt really tired because it was the first 18 holes I had walked in three weeks," he said. "I had no idea how I was going to feel so I am very pleased that it's working out for me."
NOTES: Canizares' best finish this season was a tie for 32nd at the Trophee Hassan II in March. He is looking to become the seventh Spaniard to win this event ... World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Ian Poulter and defending champion Luke Donald failed to make Friday's cut ... Miguel Angel Jimenez is making his 600th career European Tour appearance at this event. He is 4-under through 54 holes.