AKRON, Ohio — Jim Furyk spent more time looking at the forecast than the leaderboard Saturday in the Bridgestone Invitational.
He’s not sure which one looks more favorable.
Furyk missed a couple of birdie chances early in the third round, and then was more than happy to settle for pars on a Firestone course that was firm, fast, bouncy and increasingly difficult. He made 16 pars, along with one birdie on the front nine and one bogey on the back nine, for an even-par 70 that felt like a hard day of work.
The scoreboard shows him with a one-shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen, who had a 68.
Furyk never paid much attention to the leaderboard, so he wasn’t aware that he had a five-shot lead at one point on the front nine. Oosthuizen made up ground with third birdies and no bogeys over the final 10 holes to get back into the picture.
Furyk, who was at 11-under 199, will be in the final group Sunday with Oosthuizen and Keegan Bradley, four strokes back after a 67. Starting times have been moved up for the final round because of a forecast of thunderstorms throughout the day.
And that’s where it gets a little tricky.
“All I’m going off of is the weather forecast I got about six hours ago,” Furyk said. He learned enough to see the possibility of rain and thunderstorms in the morning, clearing up in the afternoon. There are predictions of gusts up to 25 mph. There might be delays, which could require stopping and starting. And most importantly, the course could play a lot longer and a lot softer.
“I’ll be a tough day,” Furyk concluded.
Saturday was no picnic, mainly because Furyk and so many others were hitting it too far.
There was so much bounce in the greens — compared with how players were able to spin the ball back in the earlier rounds — that Furyk had 68 yards to the pin on the par-5 16th hole and realized he had no chance to keep it on the putting surface. Blame that on hitting a 6-iron 250 yards to lay up. “Didn’t plan for that,” he said.
Oosthuizen smashed a 431-yard drive on the 16th and hit 6-iron, knowing his third shot would be from the rough behind the green. He hit a beautiful pitch to 3 feet for his final birdie of the round. Masters champion Bubba Watson was proud to announce he hit driver and 8-iron on the 648-yard par 5.
“We had a little bit more wind going on, the greens firmed up a little bit, and I just felt like it was a lot harder to get iron shots close to the pin,” Furyk said.
Considering the plight of so many 54-hole leaders this year, Sunday could be up for grabs.
It could be a big day for Bradley, who needs a runner-up finish to move into the top eight in the Ryder Cup standings who qualify for the U.S. team after next week.
Rory McIlroy, with an outside chance of returning to No. 1 in the world if he were to win, had a 67 and joined Steve Stricker (68) at 6-under 204, five shots behind. Stricker looked to be closing in on the lead until he hooked his tee shot on the par-5 16th into the base of a pine tree and had to take a penalty shot to be able to make a swing.
Top-ranked Luke Donald also was chipping away, as he often does, until he hit a tree on the last for a bogey for a 71, falling seven shots back.
Tiger Woods broke par for the first time all week, though his 68 left him 11 shots behind on a Firestone course where he has won seven times. Woods is taking an optimistic view out of an otherwise drab week — at least he feels as though he’s hitting the ball well.
“Hitting fairways and greens, you’re shooting high rounds of 2-under par and 3-under par, that’s a good sign,” he said. “Those are your worst scores you can possibly shoot that day. It’s not good when you’re shooting those scores and you get absolutely everything out of it.”
Rafa Cabrera-Bello didn’t get much out of his first time in contention at a big event. He played in the final group, starting two shots behind, and disappeared quickly.
He hit a bunker shot fat and just got onto the thick collar around the first green. For his fourth shot, he shanked a chip that went at a 90-degree angle away from the flag. His fifth shot with the putter came up 12 feet short and he did well to make double bogey. On the next tee shot, he hit a duck hook into the gallery. On the ninth hole, his drive landed square behind a tree, forcing him to pitch to the 10th fairway, only it didn’t go far enough, and his wedge clipped yet another tree.
The Spaniard wound up with a 77.
Worse yet, his plastic bottle of water crinkled at the top of Furyk’s back swing on the par-3 seventh. Furyk had not missed a shot to that point, and this one sailed well right of the green. He glared in the direction of the bottle, figured it was a harmless mistake and holed a 15-foot putt for par.
Those were the putts that kept Furyk in the game.
Lee Westwood would have taken some of those pars. He played alongside Rickie Fowler on Friday when the American shot 80. Westwood got off to about the same start and finished with an 81. He declined comment after his round, but had some fun with Fowler on Twitter.
“You would have beaten me 1up in match play,” Fowler tweeted.
“I’d have offered a half after 9 and gone in for a cold one!” Westwood replied.