PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Ian Poulter twice hit into water on the sixth hole, including his shot from the fifth tee. There was a three-shot swing on one hole, a two-shot swing on another. That was just the final hour of the Honda Classic on Sunday.
And it might have been a prelude to the sprint-to-the finish on Monday.
When the long day ended at soggy PGA National, Poulter and Paul Casey were tied for the lead at 7-under par — Poulter on the eighth tee, Casey in the rough on the 10th hole. They were one shot ahead Patrick Reed, who fell out of the lead with a bogey on his final hole at the par-3 seventh.
Phil Mickelson was among four players who were three shots behind at 4-under par. That group included Daniel Berger, the PGA Tour rookie from West Palm Beach whose final shot Sunday was a 35-foot chip-in for birdie on the 11th hole.
“This sort of situation is going to be difficult for everybody, and it just breaks up momentum,” said Casey, who had more than anyone after going out in 31. “Some guys will carry it through tomorrow. Others won’t, and that’s very difficult to predict. … You just hope you wake up tomorrow and you feel like you’ve got the same kind of golf swing and putts are going in the hole. You just don’t know. Hope the golfing gods are nice to us tomorrow.”
The Monday finish was not a surprise.
Once heavy rain and 50 mph gusts washed out the third round on Saturday, the plan was to get in as much golf on Sunday as possible and wrap it up the next morning. For a short time, it figured to be a dull finish. Poulter shot 4-under 66 in the third round on Sunday to build a three-shot lead over Reed and Padraig Harrington, and there was nothing to suggest he would make it easy on those trying to catch him.
Until that 8-iron on the par-3 fifth.
“A beautiful shank,” he described it.
It’s understandable that a player would find water on the fifth hole because it guards the left side of the green. Fourteen players had done that this week. Poulter’s ball shot off to the right and bounced into the water in front of the sixth tee.
He made double bogey, and when Reed holed a 35-foot birdie putt from the valley right of the green, they were tied.
Poulter then pulled his tee shot into the water left of the sixth fairway, had to two-putt from 65 feet to salvage bogey and suddenly was one shot behind.
“I didn’t even realize that I had a three-shot lead at that stage but I was in cruise control, shall we say, not making bad swings,” he said. “I was in position a lot. As I said, you take your foot off the accelerator for one second, all of a sudden you find yourself completely out of position making an easy double bogey.
“So yeah,” he concluded, “I was internally very angry, shall we say.”
He was angry enough for his eyes to bulge a little wider, the blood to boil a little more, and he fired a 6-iron into 3 feet for birdie. That gave him a share of the lead again, only this time with Casey, who made his fourth birdie of the front nine from 6 feet at the ninth hole. Reed went left of the seventh green and failed to get up-and-down to fall one shot behind.
And then it was time to stop.
Just like that, the final round — the final lap — was loaded with contenders.
Mickelson opened with two quick birdies and was getting closer to the lead until pushing a 4-foot par putt on the sixth hole. Mickelson had 10-foot par putt on the ninth hole when he returned Monday morning.
“I’m looking forward to just having a minute to regroup and take a look at what’s going on,” Mickelson said.
Jeff Overton, Brendan Steele and Russell Knox, who lost in a four-man playoff last year at PGA National, also were at 4 under.
Poulter was trying to look at the big picture.
“I’m pretty pleased with the golf I’ve played throughout the whole of today,” Poulter said. “I haven’t really made many mistakes at all. I’ve put it in position an awful lot, which is encouraging right now. And If I do that tomorrow, then I’m going to be in a good position.”
Poulter was right about that much. He did play some good golf, except for those two holes. He was bogey-free for a 66 in the third round, taking him from a two-shot deficit to a three-shot lead over Reed and Harrington going into the final round. It was his first 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.
Harrington twice missed short putts — making bogey on No. 4 and double bogey on No. 6 — and was at 3 under in the final round.
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