Joint leader Phil Mickelson put it best - “I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s shootout. It should be fun.”
The left-hander, sporting a claw grip on the greens, is tied for the lead with Vijay Singh (69) in the BWM Championship on 16 under after a third round 64 at Crooked Stick
Shootout certainly covers it. There are just five shots covering the top 16 players in the final play-off event to decide who makes the 30-man Tour Championship in Atlanta.
And that top 16 is who’s who of the current game with current world No 1 Rory McIlroy (69) and former No 1 Lee Westwood (68) just a shot off the place on 15 under.
“The cream has risen to the top, hasn’t it?” Westwood said.
Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson and Robert Garrigus share fifth place on 14 under with Tiger Woods three off the pace on 13 under after a 71 that could have been several shots worse. McIlroy was only slightly better.
Despite a poor ball-striking day, the Holywood player’s putting and some late birdies helped him post a 69 that keeps alive his hopes of a second successive win in the play-offs and his fourth of the season.
While he was losing the ball to the right and lost confidence, his putter saved him and he did something that was once a challenge - turned a poor round into a good one.
“As badly as I did hit it out there, I’m still happy with my position going into tomorrow,” McIlroy said before heading for the range. “I feel like I turned a 76 into a 69.”
McIlroy has nothing to worry about in terms of his FedEx Cup position but both Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington know that they will need their putting boots on if they are to make arrangements to get to Atlanta in a week’s time.
McDowell needs a top five to make the top 30 but is currently projected to finish 33rd after a 69 left him tied for ninth with Zach Johnson on 12 under.
“Probably need to shoot 68 to perhaps give myself a chance to get to the TOUR Championship,” McDowell said, targeting a 16 under total.
“It’s close. Like I said, I’ve got to go do it tomorrow. It’s a bit of a score fest out there. Guys are going low. It’s amazing how aggressively these guys can play when it’s ball in hand and the fairways and the greens are receptive. These are the best players in the world, and they will go low when the course is set up this way.
“I’m not going to watch the scoreboard. I certainly won’t be looking at my projected FedEx. I’ll be more concerned how I stand in this golf tournament, and if I can go and see if I can get close to the leaders at some point tomorrow, then I have half a chance of getting to Atlanta, as well.
“I’ve actually been very happy with my game the last couple days. I feel a bit off colour today, a little low energy, and I just need to rest up tonight and get sharp tomorrow and feel good.
“I’m driving the ball pretty solidly, and my iron play is not bad, so I just need to play aggressively tomorrow and hole some more putts.”
McDowell holed some nice putts on Saturday, as did Padraig Harrington, who had five birdies in a two under 70 that left him tied for 12th on 11 under.
The Dubliner is in an even more precarious FedEx Cup position than McDowell and while a top five finish might be enough, he has to think about trying to win.
It looked for a long spell on Saturday that he would be inside the top 30 FedEx Cup points winners by the day’s end. After following a birdie at the third with a bogey at the fourth, he birdied the sixth, ninth and 11th to surge into the mix.
But he then missed a four footer for par at the 12th - his Achilles’ heel this season - and a seven footer for par at the par-three 13th to undo most of his good work.
While he birdied the par-five 15th to get back to two under for the day, the 41-year old missed a 15 foot chance at the 16th and then had to hole a six footer just to avoid three-putting the last. At least it went in.
If McDowell’s calculations are correct, Harrington will likely need a closing 67 or 66 to be sure of making it to the Tour Championship.
As Mickelson said, it’s going to be a shootout. Whether Harrington’s putter will be fully loaded remains to be seen.