American duo Kevin Kisner and Ben Martin were setting the pace on the course at the Players Championship at Sawgrass on 10 under with five and six holes to play respectively, with Chris Kirk and overnight joint leader Kevin Na a shot behind.
Ian Poulter was three off the lead on seven under with Rory McIlroy a shot further back, the world number one recovering from a front nine of 37 with birdies on the 11th, 13th and 16th.
Former world number one Tiger Woods gained an unwanted record as he struggled to a third round of 75.
The American had insisted he could still win a third Players title despite making the halfway cut right on the mark of level par, but a front nine of 40 put paid to any faint hopes and saw the 14-time major winner record multiple double bogeys on par fives for the first time in his professional career.
Poulter salvaged a bogey on the 18th after hooking his tee shot into the water, while another birdie chance went begging on the same hole for McIlroy to leave the pair tied on six under par.
“Tee to green it’s been really good, I’ve given myself a lot of chances and really could not convert much,” McIlroy told Sky Sports. “I’ve struggled to read the greens all week and just don’t quite have it on the greens like I did last week (when he won the WGC-Cadillac Match Play).
“I’ve left myself in a position where I am going to need something pretty special tomorrow to have a chance; a 64 or 65 to get somewhere around 13 or 14 under. I think that would go very close.”
Grameme McDowell dropped two shots to finish one over par.