Els three behind Dufner in New Orleans
American Jason Dufner birdied two of the last four holes to take a two-shot lead in Saturday's third round of the New Orleans Classic in Avondale, Louisiana, and close in on a maiden PGA Tour victory.
A stroke in front of the chasing pack overnight, journeyman Dufner broke clear of a three-way logjam late in the day as he birdied the 15th and last holes to card a five-under-par 67.
"A pretty nice round again," the laid-back 35-year-old told reporters. "I got off to a really nice start there with three birdies in the first five holes, and that's kind of nice on this course.
"I was pretty solid, never was really in too much trouble. I hit a lot of fairways, a lot of balls in play and lot of greens or just off the greens."
Dufner came close to eagling the par-five 18th for the second day in a row after hitting an exquisite second shot to 12 feet but his first putt pulled up an inch short of the cup.
The tap-in birdie gave him a 17-under total of 199 at the TPC Louisiana with Canadian Graham DeLaet alone in second after carding a seven-birdie 66.
South African Ernie Els, a three-times major winner, birdied three of the last six holes for a 68 to lie three strokes off the pace with American John Rollins (69).
Dufner, who twice lost out in playoffs on the PGA Tour last season, mixed four birdies with a lone bogey to reach the turn in three-under 33.
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Though he was briefly caught at the top by DeLaet and Rollins, he broke clear with his birdie at the par-four 15th where his approach ended up just two feet from the pin.
Playing with his customary unflappable demeanour, Dufner safely parred the short 17th before tightening his grip on the tournament with another birdie at the last hole.
"Right now a win would be great," said the American, who has been a runner-up three times on the PGA Tour. "I've been knocking on the door with a lot of solid rounds, a lot of solid play last year at the end of the year."
Asked whether he would be able to control his emotions in Sunday's final round, Dufner replied: "I think I do a pretty good job with that.
"Obviously you're going to have some thoughts about winning tournaments when you're in a position like this, what your expectations might be, how you're going to respond tomorrow when you step on that first tee.
"The toughest part for me is that warm-up session and leading into maybe the first hole or the first tee shot. But for me, usually when the day is over, I'm done with it."
British world No 2 Luke Donald, who had battled to an opening 73, was delighted to finish the round five strokes off the lead having followed Friday's 65 with a seven-birdie 66.
"It was just a solid round," the Englishman said. "I had kind of a slow start on Thursday but 13 under for the last 36 holes is very pleasing and I'm playing a lot better. I'm back here in the mix a little bit."
Masters champion Bubba Watson, who clinched last year's New Orleans Classic in a playoff, initially struggled with fatigue this week but regained form with a 65 on Saturday to end the day eight shots off the pace.