On a day when the weather roared at Royal St George's, the Americans Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson were two of only three golfers to break par.
The third was Darren Clarke, the 42 year old from Northern Ireland whose one-under-par 69 lifted him from a share of the lead to sole ownership, 18 holes from securing his first major championship.
He closed out a rock-steady round with six pars after a birdie on 12 took him to five under.
Pounding rains and winds gusting up to 50kph prompted players to don bulky, oven-style mitts between shots, huddle under umbrellas and try to find a way to get around the course without giving up too many shots to par. More bad weather is forecast for today.
"It was playing stupidly difficult," said Edoardo Molinari, who shot 76. "Some holes were just a joke." But the storms eased up in time for those with late tee times to start putting up respectable numbers.
Fowler, 22, seized the opportunity, leaving playing partner Rory McIlroy behind as he surged into contention.
Fowler shot a two-under 68 that left him, with Thomas Bjorn, in third place, three shots back.
"It was tough, but I managed to make a few birdies and move forward," Fowler said.
"The conditions started to ease up a bit. It wasn't raining so hard and the wind eased up. I've played a lot of golf in the wind but not combined with the rain.
"I just needed to go out and make the best of it. I'm in a great position to give me a chance."
Johnson, a big hitter from South Carolina, caught up with Clarke three times during his round, but a bogey on 17 pushed him back to two under on the day, and four under in the tournament, alone in second.
The bearded American Lucas Glover, who began the day tied for the lead, carded a 73 to slide to one under, along with the Spaniard Miguel Jimenez.
Davis Love III, the 47-year-old veteran and winner of the 1997 PGA Championship, shot two over to fall to par after three rounds, but that left him on the edge of contention, along with US compatriots Phil Mickelson, Chad Campbell and Anthony Kim.
No American has won a major championship since Phil Mickelson captured the Masters in April 2010, a drought of five in a row that is the longest in the modern era.
Fowler had a run of three birdies in four holes coming down the stretch, while McIlroy faded from contention. The US Open champion knocked it out of bounds at the par-five 14th, took a double-bogey and finished with a 74.
Jason Day described his painful third round as "the toughest day I've ever played".
Day, second at the Masters and the US Open this year, carded a six-over 76 to virtually end his chances of winning.
Partnered with the American left-hander Bubba Watson, the 23-year-old Australian said: "At one point, when it was blowing really hard and the raindrops were massive, we were just laughing. We've never seen so many people hold down an umbrella sideways."
Britain's Simon Khan, winner of the PGA Championship last year, ballooned to a 77.
"It was just unbelievably brutal," Khan said. "At 14 you could barely make the fairway and if you aimed for the fairway the wind would take it out of bounds … the 14th was a par-six today."
While some players looked forlorn, Tom Watson, 61, simply donned his waterproofs and got on with the challenge of defying the elements to shoot a remarkable two-over 72.
Watson said: "Par is a great score out there, but it's a struggle. The challenge of dealing with conditions on a course like this is fun."