Then Cameron Young, a young rising star on the PGA Tour, and Bubba Watson, a 43-year-old two-time Masters champion, charged within a stroke of the lead.
When play Saturday evening, Pereira, who is 27 and playing in just his second major golf championship, had confidently, even boldly, regained the top spot on the leaderboard. After a third-round 69, he will enter Sunday’s final round with a three-stroke lead over Zalatoris and Matthew Fitzpatrick of England.
Pereira, after a mid-round stumble, vaulted past the other third-round contenders with consecutive birds on the 13th and 14th holes. Then, with a packed 18th green grandstand cheering for him, he closed out his day by sinking a 27-foot birdie putt to move to nine-under for the tournament.
While Pereira, who is ranked 100th worldwide, is not a household name in professional golf, he has had three top 20 finishes on the PGA Tour this year and won three times on the Korn Ferry Tour, the tour’s top minor league circuit.
Zalatoris had a bumpy start Saturday, shooting a four-over 39 on the front nine but steadied himself by curing some of his putting woes to shoot a rocky 73.
After bogeying his first two holes, Fitzpatrick was five-under for the rest of his round to shoot 67.
Young, whose father is David Young, the longtime golf professional at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in the suburbs of New York, made a late charge when he eagled the 296-yard par 4 17th hole by driving the green and making a short putt. With four birds in his round, Young shot 67 and was in fourth place at five-under overall.