Rory McIlroy was left to reflect on a week of two halves as Martin Kaymer dropped a shot on the last to go into the final round of the Players Championship at Sawgrass level with Jordan Spieth.

A third round of 72, including a bogey-5 on the 18th, meant Kaymer went into Sunday 12-under for the championship, level with playing partner Jordan Spieth, who himself shot 71.

Spieth has not dropped a shot all week - his last bogey came at the third hole of the final round of his previous event - and scrambled par on the 14th, 16th and 18th to return a 71.

The par save from 13 feet on the last brought a fist-pump from the 20-year-old American, who said: "I wanted to stay bogey-free. It would be really cool to play the whole tournament that way and that should be my goal tomorrow, with a couple more putts falling.

"It was an off-day ball-striking for me, I lost my driver and three-wood and was playing from the trees but got a couple of really nice breaks and bounces."

Kaymer narrowly missed his own par putt on the 18th to shoot a 72 and finish alongside Spieth on 12 under par, with 2008 champion Sergio Garcia and Australian John Senden three shots behind.

Kaymer, who had started the day one ahead of Spieth after rounds of 63 and 69, said: "It was very, very tricky today. It was tough to hit it close because it was really gusty but I am still in the lead with Jordan."

Asked about the final round, the former world number one added: "I think it's very important that you don't forget to enjoy the opportunity that you are going to get because you don't get to play in the final groups in such a big event very often.

"It felt a bit like the Ryder Cup because we are playing in America and I wasn't the favourite. It's a big challenge tomorrow. The crowds are enjoying it and it's tough to beat, but I can just take care of my own golf."

Earlier, McIlroy had been left to reflect on a week of two halves as he compiled a 69.

Rounds of 70 and 74 meant an early start for McIlroy on Saturday and he again struggled on the front nine, making a bogey on the first, double bogey on the fourth and a bogey on the sixth before birdies on the seventh and eighth took him to the turn in 38.

As on Friday, the back nine came to the former world number one's rescue and birdies on the 10th, 11th, 16th, 17th and 18th ensured a round of 69 and three-under-par total.

So far this week, McIlroy has taken 117 strokes on the front nine and 96 on the back nine, a difference of 21 shots at an average of seven per day.

Starting from the 10th in his opening round, the two-time major winner was five under par after 11 holes before three late bogeys, while he covered the front nine in 42 on Friday before rallying with vital birdies on the 12th, 13th, 16th and 18th.

"If I had just kept it around even par for the front nine, I'd be up near the leaders," McIlroy told reporters.

"I'm really happy with how I've been able to come back the last couple of days, but it's also a little frustrating that I've had to come back because I feel like I'm playing good enough to not have these little stretches of bad holes.

"Maybe tomorrow I can put it all together and start strongly and finish strongly like I have the last few days."

World number two Adam Scott had also made the cut on level par after a second round of 67 and matched McIlroy's 69 to join him on three under.

That kept alive Scott's hopes of overtaking Tiger Woods at the top of the world rankings with a top-16 finish, although the Australian spent more time afterwards answering questions about getting married in the Bahamas the week after the Masters.

If McIlroy had reasons to dislike the entire front nine at Sawgrass, Sergio Garcia could be forgiven for absolutely hating just one hole in the $10m Players Championship.

A year after dumping two balls into the water on the 17th to ruin his chances of victory in the final round, Garcia's bogey four on Saturday was at least three shots fewer and came a day earlier.

But the three-putt from 25 feet could still prove costly as the Spaniard went on to sign for a third round of 69 to join John Senden on nine under par.

Justin Rose will be hoping to handle the 18th better after suffering a double-bogey six on Saturday, the US Open champion penalised two shots after his ball moved as he set up to play his third shot from the back of the green.

Rose would have escaped with a one-shot penalty if he had replaced his ball, but appeared uncertain that the ball had moved after consulting with playing partner Garcia.

That all added up to a third round of 73 and left Rose seven shots off the lead on five under par.