Towering Englishman Chris Wood, 25, shot an eight-under-par 64 to move to 15-under and open up a three-shot lead after the third round of the US$2.5 million Commercial Bank Qatar Masters - a day after helping his fellow pro golfers win a friendly penalty shootout against a local youth football team.
Compatriot Simon Khan earlier shot 64 at Doha Golf Club to lie 12-under and was joined by New Zealander Michael Campbell (68), the 2005 US Open champion, and Sweden's Alexander Noren (66), one of Wood's teammates in the football challenge.
Sergio Garcia had drawn within two shots of Wood with four birdies, but two late bogeys in increasingly blustery winds meant the Spanish star finished with a 70 to share fifth place at 11-under with South African Branden Grace (67), a four-time winner on last year's European Tour.
Ryder Cup hero Martin Kaymer (72), among the second-round leaders with Garcia, is in a share of 11th at nine-under, while both World Number Five Louis Oosthuizen (68) and World Number 11 Jason Dufner (67) are a further shot back in a tie for 15th. World Number Four Justin Rose signed for another 71 and is six-under, nine off the pace.
It was left to the six-foot five-inch Wood to cut the 7,374-yard Championship Course down to size with five birdies on the front nine before shooting into the outright lead with an eagle at the par-five 10th.
Although a bogey at 12 slowed him down, the Bristol-born golfer bounced back with birdies at 14 and 16 to raise hopes of his first European Tour victory. Wood has recorded three runner-up finishes since 2011, most recently at the Sicilian Open last April, and 19 top-10 finishes on The European Tour.
"I shot 67, but it could have been a few better. I felt like I was swinging the club well enough to give myself more and more chances. Certainly the front nine was a good scoring opportunity, as the wind picked up on the back nine," said the soft-spoken Wood, who won his first pro title at the Thailand Open last August, on the OneAsia circuit.
"It's nice to put a low number on the board for tomorrow and I'm very excited. I thought as long as I kept myself in the mix, then I was going to be really looking forward to it but leading gives me a bit of a cushion. Obviously it's going to be difficult. It's hard to win any tournament on The European Tour."
Wood, who gained international recognition with a third place at the 2009 Open Championship, even found time to take part in a penalty shootout with four fellow pros after the second round on Thursday afternoon, taking on youth players from top club Al Sadd.
"I enjoyed it. I love football. I try to play occasionally when I'm at home, a bit of five-a-side back with my mates. I follow everything. I'm a season ticket holder at Bristol City and a Manchester United fan. I take any opportunity I can get," said Wood, a former county footballer who was at the Bristol City Academy when he was 14.
"We don't really get the chance to play any football, as we're focused on golf all week. I don't think it would be too wise to get the English and the Spanish to play each other on a Friday night!"
Campbell, a European Tour eight-time winner, is a popular contender in Qatar as the Kiwi bids to claim his first pro victory since 2005, when he won the US Open and the World Match Play Championship.
"It's just nice to be out here and having some fun at the same time and maybe have a chance of winning," Campbell said.
"At this time last year, I was packing my bags at this stage and going home, so I can't complain about that. Being three shots behind with one round to go, it's definitely nice to be in this situation."
Garcia, who will play with Grace in the third-last group, enjoyed the largest galleries, but was disappointed not to be closer to the leader after bogeys on 15 and 18, when his third shot ended in the greenside lake.
"I can be a little bit disappointed with the score, but not with the way I played. Even on 18, I thought I hit a nice shot, tried to draw it a little bit with a nine‑iron and the wind just didn't hold it at all and unfortunately it went in the water," said Garcia, who got up and down for a bogey to cheers from crowds packing the enormous hospitality pavilions.
"Hopefully the putts that didn't want to go in today will go in tomorrow. I just have to give it one more try and hopefully that will be good enough. Obviously it will be a big day for Chris. If he goes out there and plays well, he'll probably win. If not, he'll have to work it out."
Dufner, who won his first and second titles on the US PGA Tour last year, fired out of the blocks in the morning with four birdies on the front nine and began the back nine with back-to-back birdies, but backed up a bit with a bogey on the par-three 13th.
"I hit the ball fairly well and made some putts, so I'm in a good spot. If I can put in a low score tomorrow, maybe they can feel a bit of the heat. I'm just going to try to do the same as I've been doing tee to green, then hole some putts," said the 35-year-old American, one of the USA's top performers in September's Ryder Cup.
"I feel good about my game. I've really hit it well. I hit it pretty well last week, but this week I've stepped it up a little bit."
The Commercial Bank Qatar Masters will finish on a Saturday for the first time.