Steele, Dufner raise US hopes

Unheralded home duo shares lead going into the final round

Steele, who had not played a hole on the PGA Tour before this year, is ranked 121st in the world but he fired a confident four-under 66 at Atlanta Athletic Club while, all around him, many of the sport's elite struggled.

Steele has at least got a PGA Tour win under his belt -- he was victorious in the Texas Open in April -- which is more than the 34-year-old Dufner, who has played most of his golf on the second tier Nationwide Tour, can claim. Dufner carded a 68.

Britain's Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the top-ranked players in the world but neither yet to secure a major title, both looked well poised to mount challenges.

However, like so many this week, their prospects were hampered by misfortune on the tricky final four holes.

Instead, another American rookie, Keegan Bradley, was a stroke behind the leaders after showing intense concentration through his round of 69.

Veteran Americans Scott Verplank and world number five Steve Stricker carded matching 69s and were respectively two and three shots behind the pace-setting pair. Europe's closest challenger was Dane Anders Hansen, whose consistent week continued with an even-par 70 to follow his rounds of 68 and 69.

Hansen is four strokes off the pace along with yet another unfancied American, DA Points (71).

If there is to be an unprecedented seventh consecutive non-American win in a major, then the best bet looks to be Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa, who achieved a rarity of a bogey-free round on the challenging Highland course as he put himself in contention for Sunday with a 66.

Leading scores (after third round):

203: Brendan Steele (US, 69, 68, 66), Jason Dufner (US, 70, 65, 68); 204: Keegan Bradley (US, 71, 64, 69); 205: Scott Verplank (US, 67, 69, 69); 206: Steve Stricker (US, 63, 74, 69); 207: Anders Hansen (Den, 68, 69, 70), DA Points (US, 69, 67, 71); 208: David Toms (US, 72, 71, 65), Charl Schwar­tzel (SA, 71, 71, 66), Robert Karlsson (Swe, 70, 71, 67), Adam Scott (Aus, 69, 69, 70), John Senden (Aus, 68, 68, 72); 209: Ben Crane (US, 71, 72, 66), Nick Watney (US, 70, 71, 68), Luke Donald (Bri, 70, 71, 68), Spencer Levin (US, 71, 70, 68), Brendon De Jonge (Zim, 68, 72, 69), Lee Westwood (Bri, 71, 68, 70), Jim Furyk (US, 71, 65, 73); 210: Hunter Mahan (US, 72, 72, 66), Francesco Molinari (Ita, 72, 71, 67), Alexander Noren (Swe, 70, 72, 68), Matt Kuchar (US, 71, 71, 68), Bill Haas (US, 68, 73, 69), Phil Mickelson (US, 71, 70, 69), Ryan Palmer (US, 71, 70, 69), Sergio Garcia (Spa, 72, 69, 69), Scott Piercy (US, 71, 68, 71), Brandt Jobe (US, 68, 69, 73).

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