DULUTH - It's been a while since Charles Howell III has held the lead after 54 holes of a PGA Tour event. So long, in fact, he had to consult his subconscious to remember the last time it happened.
"A couple of nights ago, I was dreaming. Just playing The Masters. I had an 18-shot lead," the Augusta native joked.
Howell was unconscious in Saturday's third-round of the AT&T Classic, firing a 5-under-par 67 to take a one-shot lead over Kenny Perry into today's final round at the TPC at Sugarloaf. It's Howell's first 54-hole lead since the 2007 Sony Open in Hawaii, where he finished second.
In fact, Howell has finished runner-up in all three previous tournaments in which he held the lead heading into the final round.
Another day like Saturday, however, and Howell will have a good shot at his third PGA Tour victory and his first since last year's Nissan Open.
"Well, I just gave myself a lot of opportunities," Howell said. "I didn't really go at any corner flags. I played fairly conservatively to the greens. ... And I drove the ball well. I got in places where I could play from that."
Howell has plenty of company near the top of the leaderboard as play begins today with threesomes teeing off at both the first and 10th holes in order to beat the rain expected later in the afternoon.
David Toms, Ryan Palmer and second-round leader Jonathan Byrd are just two shots off the pace, while former Georgia Bulldog Ryuji Imada and Heath Slocum are three shots back. Duluth resident Justin Bolli lurks just four strokes off the pace.
Howell began the day with six straight pars before making his move.
Byrd - who started the day at 12-under par - opened the door further by quickly coming back to the pack with a bogey on No. 3.
Meanwhile, Byrd's playing partner, Perry, and Palmer each countered with a birdie to pull to within a stroke.
Perry took the outright lead by sinking a 20-foot putt for an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole - and kept it until hitting his approach into the left side bunker on nine and settling for a bogey.
That gave Howell a chance to climb up the leaderboard. The Augusta native posted consecutive birdies on Nos. 6 and 7 to move to 10-under and was within a shot of Perry's lead as he made the turn.
"The fact I had gotten the ball up and down for par out of this bunker on 9, then I was able to get the ball up and down and birdie the 10th hole just to keep going," Howell said. "Whereas a case of, let's say, I don't get the ball up and down on 9, so I make bogey. Then I don't make the putt on 10. Now, it's obviously a two-shot swing there. It's little things like that."
He began the back nine with a birdie at the par-5 11th to tie for the lead.
Perry reclaimed the lead following a birdie at No. 12 and was joined by Palmer at 12-under after his birdie at No. 13. Howell bided his time before grabbing a share of the lead with a birdie on the par-4 15th.
Another birdie on No. 17, where he reached the green with a drive and a wedge before sinking a 20-foot putt, gave him the outright lead.
Plenty of others, however, are close on his heels.
While Perry, Toms, Palmer and Byrd are all within two shots, the biggest moves of the day were made by Imada - last year's runner-up to Zach Johnson in a playoff - Bolli and Omar Uresti.
Imada started the day eight shots off the lead, but made up five strokes with a bogey-free round of 6-under 66.
"You know, if I'm within three, four shots of the lead, I know I've got a chance," Imada said.
"And you know, there's a bunch of guys - I'd say about 15 guys - who have got a chance to win if that's the case. So, I've just got to go out there and make a lot of birdies."
Bolli started Saturday seven strokes off the lead, but has cut three shots off that deficit with his 4-under 68.
The biggest move Saturday came from Uresti, who fired the day's best round at 7-under 65 to pull into a tie for ninth place, just five strokes back.