Late birdie puts Furyk a stroke in front at Hilton Head

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Jim Furyk coolly rolled in an 11-foot birdie putt at the last to break one shot clear of a congested leaderboard in Saturday's third round of the Heritage Classic in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

With the ocean breezes tugging at his trousers, the American world number six watched as his ball dropped into the cup to compete a flawless four-under-par 67 before tipping his cap to acknowledge the applause of the crowd.

American Heath Slocum, who had been one stroke in front playing the last, double-bogeyed the 18th for a 67 to finish in a seven-way tie for third at nine under.

Level with Slocum were his compatriots Boo Weekley (68), Briny Baird (66), Ricky Barnes (66) and Woody Austin (67), Canadian Stephen Ames (65) and Britain's Luke Donald (67).

Furyk began the day in a three-way tie for the lead with American Charles Howell III and Britain's Greg Owen but, by the time he teed off, he had slipped to fourth place as the earlier starters posted low scores.

Out in one-under-par 35, Furyk stayed in contention by recording birdies at the 11th and 13th and narrowly missed further birdie opportunities on 15 and 17 before signing off with a flourish at the par-four last.

FEELING GOOD

"It all feels pretty good," the 2003 U.S. Open champion said in a greenside interview. "I got off to a slow start with my ball-striking today and hit some irons that weren't so crisp early on.

"But I made some good up-and-downs, kept myself in the game and then down the stretch is probably the best I have hit it all week."

"I realized it's a long day and we still had 36 holes to go," the 39-year-old said. "My goal really wasn't to worry about whether I was leading the golf tournament or where I was at.

"There were 20 of us bunched within two shots so we were all basically leading the golf tournament. The idea was to go out, shoot a good number and put myself in position for tomorrow. And I've done that."

(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Ken Ferris)