LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – At first glance, the technical term to describe a couple of Luke Donald’s incoming holes Saturday seemed to be “running out of gas.” But then the over-scheduled globetrotter’s dash toward the top of the leaderboard and money list not only stalled, it changed directions.
Call it getting stuck in reverse for a while.
World No. 1 Donald, needing at least a tie for second for a chance to pass Webb Simpson for the PGA Tour money title, injected some excitement into the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic with a charge up the board Saturday afternoon. When Donald birdied the Magnolia Course’s par-3 12th from 4 feet and got to 11 under par total and 4 under for the day, he moved into a tie for third, only two strokes off the lead.
But then he missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the short par-4 13th and made a double-bogey 7 at 14, where he hit a 3-wood tee shot into water right and three-putted from 35 feet, running his first putt 8 feet by. Donald had gone 483 consecutive PGA Tour holes without a three-putt, dating to the third round of the RBC Canadian Open in July.
“I think if I would’ve made the putt at 13, the momentum would’ve continued,” he said.
Donald slipped further back when he drove into a hazard left and bogeyed 16, where he got up and down from a back left greenside bunker 27 yards away.
Two wild drives and a clear drop in drama.
“A couple of bad swings really cost me,” Donald said. “That’s all I did wrong, but it really cost me. Yesterday (in a 71), I hit a dozen bad shots and today, I hit two bad ones and shot almost the same score.”
The Englishman did rebound with a birdie at 18, converting from 8 feet, and ended the third round of the season’s final official event at 9 under and in a tie for 14th, five strokes behind the co-lead of Justin Leonard and Kevin Chappell.
“I’ll need to go really low tomorrow to have a chance (to win the money title),” Donald said after his 70. “A 62 maybe could do it.”
If Donald were to somehow win the first prize, Simpson would have to finish second alone ($507,600) to stay on top. If Donald finishes second alone, Simpson would need eighth place or better to stay ahead. And if Donald delivers a T-2, Simpson would need at least a four-way tie for 21st.
Donald was three strokes ahead of Simpson until he doubled the 14th and Simpson birdied from 24 feet. Simpson ended the day tied for ninth, a shot ahead of Donald after a 69 that included 32 on the back. Remarkably, the two will be paired together Sunday for the fourth day in a row.
Donald said his energy level was about 90 percent better than it was when he felt poorly Friday. Then, not surprisingly, he added, “It’s been a long year. I’m looking forward to a break.”
He added the Disney tournament to his schedule at the last minute because he is trying to become the first player to lead earnings on the PGA and European tours in the same season.
If he comes up short here, he could cite the 587-yard 14th as a big contributing factor, for he played it in 13 shots during the middle two rounds.
He bogeyed it Friday after finding a hazard left on his second shot. Then his tee shot Saturday was delayed for about a minute. Donald was over the ball when he was suddenly distracted by the presence of a marshal down the fairway. He stepped away, went to the left of the tee to try to see what was happening, and raised his arms as if to say, “What’s going on?” Then when he finally hit, he flared the tee shot into the right hazard.
“It was just a bad swing,” said Donald, unsure afterward if the marshal was trying to stop him from hitting because the group ahead was within reach. “I can’t blame (the delay). Plenty of times I’ve backed off shots and then hit good shots.”