KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Anirban Lahiri moved into position to record a first PGA Tour victory when the Indian fired an exquisite third round seven-under 65 at the TPC Kuala Lumpur course to storm four shots clear of the field at the CIMB Classic on Saturday.
Lahiri's nine birdies offset an ugly double-bogey six on the 12th as the Pune-born 29-year-old moved to 19-under for the tournament, well ahead of overnight leader and defending champion Justin Thomas (71) and Scotland's Russell Knox (68).
"I just have to try and do the same thing on the last round," Lahiri told reporters. "Everybody is making birdies all the way around so I don't think there's any other way to do it."
First round co-leader Derek Fathauer, James Hahn and Hideki Matsuyama are a further shot adrift at the $7 million event but with the rest of the field six or more strokes further back, the winner is likely to come from the top six on the leaderboard.
Lahiri claimed one of his two European Tour wins on this course at last year's Malaysian Open and his familiarity with the layout and humid conditions will give him the confidence to convert his healthy advantage into victory on Sunday.
Now based primarily on the U.S. circuit, Lahiri warmed up for the CIMB Classic in Macau and although he lost the Asian Tour event in a playoff, the six straight birdies he rattled off to tie for the lead after 72 holes showed he was in great form.
Displaying pinpoint accuracy with his irons, Lahiri has notched up 25 birdies in his opening three rounds but was held back by late lapses on Thursday and Friday when he dropped a total of four shots on the closing holes.
On Saturday, however, he birdied both the 17th and 18th holes to maintain a sizeable advantage over the chasing pack.
"I'm in a good frame of mind coming in after last week where I felt like I let one get away. I will do my best to improve on that and I am glad I kept my focus all the way through the round today," Lahiri added.
Thomas started the day with a two-stroke lead but the 23-year-old suffered a mid-round meltdown, dropping four shots in three holes from the 10th, before the American rallied back into contention with five consecutive birdies from the 14th.
The CIMB Classic is the second event on the 2017 PGA Tour and is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour.
(Writing by John O'Brien; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)