Miami - World number one Jason Day battled through horrid putting conditions and a poor start Saturday to fire a one-over par 73 and lead by four shots after three rounds of the US PGA Players Championship.
Players ripped the greens as all-but unfair as TPC Sawgrass produced only six sub-par scores, matching its all-time low for any round and sparking major complaints from the world's top golfers.
"I've never gone over putts where I've had to lag a 10-foot putt and not try to hole it," Day said. "That's the first time in my career I've had to do that.
"It's not a lot of fun to have to try and two-putt from 10 feet. I never got really comfortable on the greens at all."
Third-ranked Rory McIlroy was even harsher, saying, "That was borderline unfair on a few holes. A few pin positions were on crowns. You dribble a putt past the hole and it's six feet by."
Day seeking his second wire-to-wire victory of the season and seventh title in 17 starts, finished 54 holes on 14-under 202.
"Some of the pin locations were just a little bit iffy with how the greens were," Day said. "It's supposed to be tough I guess. It was a drastic change from Thursday and Friday. I was very shocked."
Day opened with a 63, matching the 18-hole course record, and completed a weather-hit second round of 66 on Saturday to set a 36-hole record of 15-under 129.
But after going bogey-free through 36 holes for the first time in his career, Day had a bogey and two double bogeys in the first eight holes of round three before fighting back with three birdies the rest of the way.
"I feel good about my game. I have to focus on the positive. I've got a 4-stroke lead," said Day, who has won his past four events when leading after 54 holes.
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, Germany's Alex Cejka and American Ken Duke shared second on 206 with Italy's Francesco Molinari on 207. South African Retief Goosen and American Kevin Chappell shot 70 to reach 208.
Matsuyama birdied three holes in a row to open his front and back nines on the way to a 67 while Duke, a back-nine starter, birdied six of his last seven holes to move into the hunt with a shock 65.
Few others were happy as the average score was about 75 on greens that were rock hard and lightning fast.
"I felt like we were putting on dance floors," said American Billy Horschel after a 75, with Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell calling the green speeds "crazy" and US veteran Jim Furyk dubbing the firm and fast greens "almost impossible to play."
Mark Russell, a PGA Tour competition vice president, blamed high winds and a humidity drop for the green conditions after two days of record low scoring.
"The moisture just went away and they did speed up. We just had a perfect storm that happened," he said. "I empathize with them but we didn't try to do anything to speed them up."
Day finished the last four holes of his storm-hit second round Saturday morning, a birdie on 15 and three pars completing a second-round 66 to give him a 36-hole tournament record of 15-under 129 and a record five-shot midway lead.
But the Aussie struggled early in round three after going 36 holes without a bogey for the first time in his career.
Day handed back five shots in six holes, missing a six-foot putt to drop a stroke at the par-3 third. He four-putted from 18 feet for a double bogey at the par-4 sixth and, after a tap-in birdie on seven, made another double bogey at the par-3 eighth as his lead fell to a single shot.
Day responded with a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-3 ninth, blasted out of a greenside bunker to three feet to birdie the par-5 11th, chipped in from 53 feet for a miracle par at 15 and birdied the par-5 16th.
World number two Jordan Spieth missed the cut by a stroke, finishing on 143 in his first event since a back-nine Sunday collapse cost him the Masters title.
McIlroy, only three back of Day at the turn, gave back five shots on the next six holes on his way to a 75 to stand nine adrift.
Cejka, 45, birdied 16 and 17 on his way to shooting 72. He and Duke, 47, seek their second US PGA career titles.
Scotland's Russell Knox matched the fourth-worst score ever at the par-3 17th with a nine, splashing down with his first three tee shots at the island green.