PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Retief Goosen shot his best round of the year, a bogey-free, 7-under 64, to climb up the leaderboard early in the third round of the Valspar Championship.
“Best round of the year?” he was asked.
“Best round for the last few years for me,” Goosen said.
Playing in the second group of the day, Goosen zoomed from the cut line at 3 over into a tie for second place with Kevin Na at 4 under. By the time Goosen finished, he stood just three strokes behind the leader, Robert Garrigus, who hadn’t even arrived at the course yet for his 2:30 p.m. tee time.
It didn’t look like Goosen would make a Saturday charge early. With six straight pars to start his round, Goosen expressed his frustration to his caddie.
“Walking down six, I said Mark, ‘I can’t make a putt’ and suddenly I made one on seven and, hallelujah, it started happening,” Goosen said.
The hole started looking bigger at the seventh when Goosen canned an 11-foot birdie putt with a big right-to-left break. Suddenly, the putts started dropping in bunches. Goosen tacked on birdies at eight from 26 feet and nine from 10 feet to turn in 33.
The putter heated up again on the back with birdies at 12 and 13. Goosen didn’t need any help from his shortstick at 16. He chipped-in for birdie from 54 feet after coming up short of the green with his second.
“That was a bonus,” he said.
He carded his final birdie of the round at 17 and then scrambled for par from a fairway bunker at the closing hole. Even more impressive in Goosen’s 64 was the fact that he didn’t birdie any of the four par-5 holes.
“This golf course doesn’t give you anything,” he said.
Goosen, 45, had his 2013 season cut short after nine tournaments when he withdrew from The Players Championship in May with recurring back trouble. He had back surgery on Aug. 21, 2012.
“I said to my wife, ‘It’s so bad now I can’t play anymore. If it doesn’t work out in surgery, I still can’t play so it can only get better,’ ” he said of his pre-surgery condition. “I probably came back to quick (last year) and picked up a fracture in my back and that put me out for another four months.”
But Goosen said his back feels great and he’s finally healthy again. Now it’s a matter of restoring his confidence in his abilities. The two-time major winner has just one top-10 this season and is seeking his first Tour victory since 2009 here at Innisbrook.
“I seem to see the lines very good on the greens here,” Goosen said, “good feel for some of the shots required and hopefully tomorrow I can get something going.”