(CNN) -- Bubba Watson will take a three-shot lead into the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship after a five-under 67 Saturday on Doral's Blue Monster Course.
Watson totaled 17-under 199 with England's Justin Rose and fellow American Keegan Bradley his nearest challengers.
World no.1 Rory McIlroy made a thrilling charge from the pack and was nine under after 12 holes, but dropped two shots on the back nine to card a 65.
It left him bracketed on nine-under with Tiger Woods, who carded a 68.
McIlroy will be ruing a first round 73 in his first tournament since going top of the rankings, but showed his class to give himself an outside chance of victory.
"I needed four more," McIlroy told the PGA Tour website. "It's just a shame that I bogeyed 14 and I couldn't really get back in it."
Watson's closest challenger all day was England's Justin Rose but he bogeyed the last hole to fall back into a tie with PGA champion Bradley, who carded a bogey-free 66.
Sweden's Peter Hanson was fourth on 204, one stroke ahead of Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson with American Johnson Wagner alone in seventh on 206.
McIlroy and Woods shared eighth with deposed number one Luke Donald of England, Germany's Martin Kaymer, South African Charl Schwartzel and American Webb Simpson.
But Watson, who took control of the tournament with a 62 Friday, kept ahead with more fine play.
"I wanted to play good," Watson said. "I just tried to keep my head down and I somehow grinded out a pretty good score."