(Reuters) - American Jason Dufner birdied two of the last four holes to take a two-shot lead in Saturday's third round of the New Orleans Classic in Avondale, Louisiana and close in on a maiden PGA Tour victory.
A stroke in front of the chasing pack overnight, journeyman Dufner broke clear of a three-way logjam late in the day as he birdied the 15th and last holes to card a five-under-par 67.
The laid-back 35-year-old came close to eagling the par-five 18th for the second day in a row after hitting an exquisite second shot to 12 feet but his first putt pulled up an inch short of the cup.
The tap-in birdie gave Dufner a 17-under total of 199 at the TPC Louisiana with Canadian Graham DeLaet alone in second after carding a seven-birdie 66.
South African Ernie Els, a three-times major winner, birdied three of the last six holes for a 68 to lie three strokes off the pace with American John Rollins (69).
Dufner, who twice lost out in playoffs on the PGA Tour last season, mixed four birdies with a lone bogey to reach the turn in three-under 33.
Though he was briefly caught at the top by DeLaet and Rollins, he broke clear with his birdie at the par-four 15th where his approach ended up just two feet from the pin.
Playing with his customary unflappable demeanor, Dufner safely parred the short 17th before tightening his grip on the tournament with another birdie at the last.
British world number two Luke Donald, who had battled to an opening 73, was delighted to finish the round five strokes off the lead having followed Friday's 65 with a seven-birdie 66.
"It was just a solid round," the Englishman said. "I had kind of a slow start on Thursday but 13 under for the last 36 holes is very pleasing and I'm playing a lot better. I'm back here in the mix a little bit."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Gene Cherry)