After play had started on schedule at 7.40am as 60 players returned to complete unfinished business on a glorious morning in the United Arab Emirates, the American carded a flawless seven-under-par 65 at Abu Dhabi Golf Club to move to 13-under-par.
Helped by an eagle at the last, Dutchman Joost Luiten (68) was his nearest challenger on 11-under, with title favorite Rory McIlroy (70) a shot further back alongside Thomas Pieters (64), Branden Grace (66), Ben An (69) and Matthew Baldwin (67).
“It is nice to move up and get myself in a good position to win this afternoon,” admitted Fowler after storming home in 31, five-under-par. “I’ve still got a lot of work to do, but the game feels good and I’m excited for the challenge ahead.”
Fowler, who won three times last year, including his Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open triumph at Gullane, was almost the forgotten man as he played with McIlroy and world No 1 Jordan Spieth on the opening day.
But he followed an uneventful first-round 70 with a 68 and has now stepped up his challenge for a victory that would see him climb to No 4 in the world.
“The first day I had a little trouble with reading the greens and the speed of them, but I’ve been hitting some good putts the last two rounds,” he added. “It is nice to feel comfortable on the greens and I’m looking forward to having some opportunities this afternoon.
“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable this year on the golf course than last (when he made his debut in the opening event on the European Tour’s Desert Swing).
“I’m confident where my game is at and will stick to the game plan. But I’m going to have to earn this win because there’s a lot of guys near the top of the leaderboard right now so it won’t be easy. I would take another 65.”
McIlroy, who has finished runner-up four times in this event, had resumed this morning in a five-way tie for the lead. But, after starting with a bogey 6 at the par-5 tenth, the four-time major winner struggled on the greens as he was left trailing in Fowler’s wake.
After being unable to convert a six-foot birdie putt at the 18th, McIlroy’s frustration was evident as he tossed his putter away in disgust.
Englishman Andy Sullivan, who had held a two-shot lead before running up a triple-bogey 7 at his final hole on Saturday, is five behind Fowler after posting a 74.
Even further back is American amateur Bryson DeChambeau, who led after an opening 66 and was still in contention at halfway but is now down to joint-51st on two-under after a 78.
Top Scot heading into the final round is Scott Jamieson after he shot up the leaderboard with a six-under-par 66 to sit joint-19th on seven-under.
“I hit a lot more greens in that round than the first two and that lessens your chances of bogeys and also gives you more birdie opportunities,” said the 32-year-old, who just held on to his card at the end of last season.
“It was solid tee to green and I holed a few putts. My only bogey at the last stemmed from my tee shot being two yards off the fairway on the right.
“I couldn’t reach the green and was left with a 50-yard bunker shot for my third so a 5 wasn’t a total disaster. Another 66 this afternoon would so me some good.”
Richie Ramsay (72) is tied for 35th, David Drysdale (70) shares 38th position and Russell Knox (71) is joint-51st.