Both are looking for their first win on the PGA Tour.
Davis made an early move, shooting 29 on the front nine with six birdies. Thatcher overtook him with three consecutive birdies on the back nine and had a one-stroke lead before missing a 7-foot par putt on the 17th hole.
“I executed just really well in that stretch,” Thatcher said. “It’s easy to say they’re easy holes, and that’s what you should do, but you still have to execute.”
Seventeen other players are within five strokes of the lead entering the final round.
John Rollins, James Driscoll and Stuart Appleby are two strokes back. Defending champion Fredrik Jacobson, who led after two rounds, shot 70 to remain at 9-under.
Davis said his fast start was helped by the thunderstorms that pushed the finish of the second round to Saturday morning and softened up the greens.
“I didn’t even realize I had shot 29,” said Davis, who has been a runner-up on the PGA Tour five times. “I was just playing and everything was going right. Then obviously we hit the turn and we had the wind pick up for about three holes and it was playing tough all of the sudden.”
Four of the past six winners at River Highlands have been first-time winners on the tour– Jacobson last year, Bubba Watson in 2010, Hunter Mahan in 2007 and J.J. Henry in 2006.
Davis, Thatcher and Driscoll would like to join that club.
“But it’s not something that is going to help me win,” said Driscoll, who followed an opening round 68 with consecutive 66s. “The only thing that is going to help me win is if I keep doing what I’m doing. But, it is hopefully a good omen.”
Appleby, by contrast, is looking for his 10th tour win after making just one bogey in his round. The 41-year-old Australian said he’s happy to be considered the old veteran among the young guns vying for the championship.
“It would be good to get back in the winner’s circle,” he said. “The only cut I’ve made has been shaving for a long time. I played better golf when I was a rookie out here, and that’s just not right.”
Jacobson recovered from a bogey on 17 to birdie the final hole and stay within striking distance as he attempts to join Phil Mickelson, the 2001 and 2002 winner, as the only players to successfully defend a title at River Highlands.
“I’m really happy being three behind going into tomorrow rather than five or six,” he said. “I’ll take the positives.”
Watson also is in the mix, one of four golfers at 8-under par.
He had a 15-foot birdie putt to go 10-under at the 17th hole, but hit it 5 feet past the hole and then missed the return putt.