Kuala Lumpur - Pat Perez took a four-stroke lead in the third round of the CIMB Classic in Malaysia Saturday with an eight-under 64, as Justin Thomas's title defence looked all but over.
The 41-year-old Perez's impressive performance put him on a three-day total of 21-under 195, leaving him in a strong position heading into the final round of the PGA Tour event Sunday.
The American shrugged off sweltering heat at the TPC Kuala Lumpur to fire nine birdies as he continued his impressive putting, which has been the standout feature of his game this week.
He holds a significant advantage over second-placed compatriot Xander Schauffele, who sits four strokes behind him. Schauffele overcame a first hole bogey to end the day on five-under-par 67.
South Korea's Kang Sung-Hoon is also a threat heading into the final day at five shots behind Perez in third, while Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and American Keegan Bradley are in tied fourth position.
But the shock news of the event has been the poor performance of Thomas, who has just finished a superb season and was hoping to triumph at the CIMB Classic for a third successive year.
He improved slightly Saturday with a three-under-par 69 but he was still languishing far down the leaderboard in tied 24th position, 15 strokes off Perez.
Perez insisted he did not feel under pressure to win.
"I'm not going to put pressure on myself to win," he said. "Of course everybody wants to win, it would be nice to do it, get the year started off right, but it is what it is.
"I'm going to go out and try to hit a little better, make some putts and we'll see what happens."
World number three Matsuyama stormed into contention with the lowest score of the day, 63.
But he admitted it would be hard to overtake Perez: "You know, with the way Pat is playing, I don't know if he can be caught or not."
The shot of the day belonged to South Korea's Whee Kim who fired a 191-yard hole-in-one on the 15th, for which he won a BMW car as a prize.
The $7 million CIMB Classic is co-sponsored by the Asian Tour and PGA Tour.