Cameron Smith (nine-under) has given himself an outside chance of winning Australia’s first Olympic medal, while compatriot Marc Leishman (even) slipped further down the leaderboard in the third round at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
Tokyo’s hottest weather of the week did not faze the Queenslander as he went bogey free in a five-under par round of 66 to be T-11.
He was steady throughout the day, but scrapped it out early as he missed the fairway with his opening three tee shots.
His well-renowned short game kept him in it and he quickly found momentum with a trio of birdies on the fifth, sixth and seventh.
After the turn, the top-ranked Australian dropped a monster birdie putt from the fringe on the 11th and put his approach shot on the 13th to within half a metre for another birdie.
He parred his way in from there, but he had done what he had to do.
“I thought if I shot five or six-under today it would get me close enough to where if I had another good one tomorrow I could be in the running for a medal,” Smith said.
“So it was nice to go out there after a pretty poor start to hang in there and shoot that.”
Smith will need something special on Sunday to make up the five shots he trails leader Xander Schauffele (14-under) by.
“It’s going to take a good one,” he said.
“But if I can get out to a start like I did those first couple of days, make a few birdies in the first four or five holes, I think I’ll be looking at it differently.
“I just need to go out there and do that.”
The nature of the Olympic tournament has caused Smith and the rest of the field to look at things differently all week.
“It’s just a different mentality,” Smith said.
“If you get off to a scrappy start in a tour event you can still sort of wiggle your way up there and get some good points, whereas this week, all you think about is those first three spots.”
It is a shame that no crowds will be present to witness the final round, but Smith has relished the Olympic experience regardless.
“I mean, the crowds would make a massive difference but nonetheless the Aussie boys have had a great week off the course,” he said.
“It’s been so much fun and it’s not very often you get to represent your country.
“I’m pretty proud. Proud to be an Aussie.
“The Aussies are going great in the Olympics so far and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Fellow Australian Marc Leishman had another difficult day on Saturday with a one-over par round taking him back to even par for the tournament at T-49.
Entering the back nine at one-over for the day, Leishman looked to have rallied with birdies at the 13th and 15th, but bogeys on the final two holes finished off a disappointing day for the Victorian.
Meanwhile, overnight leader Schauffele held steady at the top with a three-under par round of 68 to hold a one shot lead from Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
Schauffele looked to have left the door ajar for his rivals when he bogeyed the 16th, but from 160 metres out on the 18th he put it to within a metre to finish the day with a birdie and the momentum.
Matsuyama is nipping at his heels however, and a four-under round of 67 has him primed to medal with his only blemish for the day coming via a bogey on the first.
The American and the Japanese hometown hero will once again be a final pairing on Sunday after playing the final round at this year’s Masters together when Matsuyama triumphed.
Teeing off slightly before them will be Great Britain’s Paul Casey and Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz, who are both one shot behind Matsuyama.
Casey has been a picture of consistency across the tournament shooting 67, 68 and 66 so far, while Ortiz stumbled on the 18th today by missing a par putt from within a metre.
Another shot back at eleven-under par are Columbian Sebastian Munoz, Irishmen Rory McIlroy, Chilean Mito Pereira and Austrian Sepp Straka.
The remainder of the chasing back consists of Great Britain’s Tommy Fleetwood (10-under), Ireland’s Shane Lowry (10-under), Mexico’s Abraham Ancer (nine-under), Italy’s Guido Migliozzi (nine-under) and Smith.