Padraig Harrington had little to celebrate on St Patrick’s Day until he birdied the last to card a one over par 72 and keep his victory hopes on life support at the Transitions Championship in Tampa.
The Dubliner was three clear of the field after his sensational 10 under 61 on Thursday but despite a second round 73 and another over par round yesterday, he is still just four strokes behind leaders Retief Goosen and Jim Furyk at the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook.
The bad news is the the 40-year old fell from joint second overnight into an 11-man logjam for tenth place on seven under par and given his negative momentum, he will need to produce a low final round to end a three and a half year victory drought on the PGA Tour.
The three-time major winner opened the tournament in spectacular fashion when he took just 22 putts in a career best, 10-under par 61.
Poor putting cost the Dubliner dearly in the second round as he holed just one putt inside 10 feet, missed another from just 22 inches and used the blade 33 times to fall two shots off the pace set by Jason Dufner.
But as Dufner carded a level par 71 to share third place with the impressive South Korean rookie Sang-Moon Bae (68) on 10 under, Harrington birdied the last from 15 feet to remain in the hunt, but only just.
Having missed a six footer for par at the second, the Ryder Cup star birdied the third from eight feet but missed a three and a half footer for par at the ninth and then dropped another shot at the next to slip to two over for the day.
However, while the Dubliner holed from 11 feet for birdie at the par-five 14th he bogeyed the par-three 17th before that late birdie gave him a tally of 29 putts and an outside chance of victory today.
Goosen ignored a painful back to shoot a six under 65 to set the target at 11 under par before being joined in a share of the lead by Furyk, who shot a five under 66 despite carding his only bogey of the day at the 18th.
The South African won this event in 2003 and 2009 and desperately needs a big finish to avoid missing next month’s the Masters Tournament for the first time since 1999.
Struggling with back problems and down to 52nd in the world rankings from 18th just 12 months ago, a win today would automatically secure his place in the field at Augusta National.
But while he could also qualify by moving into the world’s top 50 and staying there for another two weeks, he insisted last night that today’s final round will be his last throw of the dice with Augusta on his mind.
“The Masters is definitely the number one spot you want to be,” said Goosen, who will not play in next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in order to undergo treatment on a bulging disk in his back.
“The last three weeks, it’s really just started getting bad again,” Goosen said. “So we decided to call it a day. We withdrew from Bay Hill yesterday and I’m going to get the injections done on Wednesday. So hopefully I’ll be ready to get going again after the Masters, or maybe the Masters if I play well tomorrow.”
Furyk hasn’t had a win since 2010, when he claimed the $10m FedEx Cup bonus by clinching the season-ending Tour Championship for his third victory of a stellar year that also included a win at Copperhead.
John Mallinger (66) and Ken Duke (69) are just two shots off the lead on nine under with Luke Donald three shots adrift of the leaders in a share of seventh with Chez Reavie (67) and Ernie Els (68) who also needs a win or a move into the world’s top 50 over the next fortnight to qualify for Augusta.
Nothing but a victory will be good enough for 34-year old Donald if he retake the world number one spot from Rory McIlroy in his last start before Augusta.
But while he chiseled out a one under 70 to get to eight under par, that still left him trailing 43-year old Goosen and 41-year old Furyk by three and tied for seventh entering today’s final round.
“Obviously the main focus is to win tomorrow and if I do that, everything will kind of take care itself,” Donald said. “Rory has had a great run, and it will be nice to put a little pressure on him.”
For a while it looked likely that South Korean rookie Sang-Moon Bae would join Furyk in the lead. But having stormed five under for the day to lead on 12 under with four holes to play, the 25-year old triple bogeyed the 16th to slip back before a two at the par-three 17th helped him card a 68 for a share of third place with overnight leader Jason Dufner on 10 under.
Bae topped the money list on the Japan Golf Tour last year, winning three times, before clinching his US Tour card at last year’s Q-School.
So far this year he has made the cut in all eight of his starts with the highlight a run to the quarter-finals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson, where he eventually lost 3 and 2 to McIlroy.