Late birdie earns Palmer share of Waialae lead

HONOLULU (Reuters) - American Ryan Palmer coolly birdied the par-five last to regain a share of the lead with playing partner Robert Allenby of Australia after Saturday's third round of the Sony Open.

One stroke clear at the start of another breezy day at Waialae Country Club, Palmer was twice caught by Allenby and trailed by a shot with six holes remaining before his grandstand finish.

That left him at 11-under 199 and level with the in-form Allenby who recorded three birdies in a bogey-free 67.

The pair will go into Sunday's final round at Waialae holding a three-shot lead, although 13 players are bunched within five strokes of the pacesetters.

Defending champion Zach Johnson reeled off three consecutive birdies from the par-five ninth on the way to an even 70 and a tie for third with world number three Steve Stricker (69), Davis Love III (68) and Troy Matteson (68).

"I couldn't be any happier with where I'm at," the 33-year-old Palmer told reporters after covering the back nine in one-under 34.

"If you had told me I would have shot two under par today, I would have said: 'Great, let's go home'. It was actually a very solid day of ball-striking, I felt.

"I never really hit it close to give myself a lot of birdie chances but I stayed in the moment, hung in there, hit some great shots and had a great finish on 18."

ALLENBY DELIGHT

Four-times PGA Tour winner Allenby, who is bidding for his first victory on the U.S. circuit since the 2001 Pennsylvania Classic, was also delighted with his position.

"I've got one more round and I'm right in there so I'm really looking forward to a good round tomorrow," said the 38-year-old who has been nursing a painful ankle all week.

"Scoring was tough this afternoon, especially on those greens late in the afternoon with full traffic in front."

Allenby first caught Palmer when he knocked in a four-foot birdie putt at the par-four second before his playing partner regained the outright lead with a birdie at the fifth.

Long regarded as one of the best ball-strikers in the game, Allenby was the hottest player coming into this year, having won the Australian PGA championship and the Sun City Challenge in South Africa in successive weeks last month.

"It was special to win in South Africa and very special to win in Australia," he said. "Obviously if I win tomorrow, that would be awesome but there's still a long way to go."

Twice winner Ernie Els, making his first start on the 2010 PGA Tour, carded a 67 to lie seven strokes off the lead at four under.

(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Alastair Himmer)