PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Despite a slow-play warning and two missed short putts in the final seven holes, Robert Garrigus maintained the lead Saturday after 54 holes at the Valspar Championship.
Garrigus shot a 1-under 70 on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort to take a one-stroke lead over Kevin Na into Sunday’s final round. Garrigus is seeking his first victory since 2010.
Hot on his heels are John Senden, who tied for the low round of the day with 64, reigning U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
Here are 5 Things you need to know:
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1. CAN HE CLOSE? Garrigus is taking a lead or co-lead into the final round for the fourth time in his career. Of his previous three, each resulted in a second-place finish or share of it.
“If I play a good round tomorrow,” he said, “if I shoot under par, they’re going to have to come get me.”
Garrigus has just one Tour victory, at the 2010 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, and famously blew a three-shot lead at the 2010 FedEx St. Jude Classic on the final hole. At the Northern Trust in February, Garrigus addressed just how long it has been since he has tasted victory.
“I’ve had a lot of chances and close calls,” he said. “So it’s been, feels like 10 years since I won, definitely, and it’s only been, what, four, almost five.”
Garrigus got a break early in the third round when his opening tee shot hit a tree and caromed back into play. He made birdie at each of the first two holes and reached double figures under par with an up-and-down from left of the fifth green after taking a drop from the cart path.
At that point, he had birdied the first 10 par 5s he had played in the tournament.
“He knows he stole something there,” NBC’s Peter Jacobsen said.
“It was off the pine straw and downhill and running away from me,” he said. “That was pretty nice to get that one up and down.”
Garrigus led by four strokes at the time, but that would be his last birdie of the day. He made his first bogey when he “flinched” on a 5-footer on 12, and he missed a 6-foot par putt on 18.
Garrigus also received a slow-play warning on the par-5 14th hole when he walked up to the green and back to his ball to check his distance. Had he received a second bad time, it would have resulted in a one-stroke penalty.
“That’s the first time in nine years – actually the first time in 17 years as a professional – I’ve ever got a bad time on the golf course,” Garrigus said.
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2. WHILE WE’RE YOUNG: Kevin Na has been branded as one of golf’s slowest players. He knows he’ll never be the poster boy for the U.S. Golf Association’s campaign to speed up pace of play.
He was given a bad time on the 13th hole, but he wasn’t going to accept responsibility for falling behind the group in front of him. He noted that Pat Perez, in the group ahead of him, had to return to the the third tee slowing their pace and then he waited at the fifth while Garrigus, Na’s playing competitor, was awarded a free drop from a cart path.
“I don’t feel like I should be criticized for my play today because I’m the first one to admit if I play slow, but I really didn’t feel like I played slow today,” Na said.
• For more on this topic, read Jeff Rude’s column here.
Na said he felt rushed on the back nine, but he managed to shoot a 3-under 68, which included a chip-in birdie from 26 feet at the par-3 15th hole.
“The ball was sitting down, the rough was pretty deep over there,” he said. “Actually opened the face and got under it perfect. Came out nice with some spin and found the hole.”
Na, who won the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospital Open, is seeking his second Tour title. He didn’t make a bogey in his first 45 holes, and said his game is peaking.
“I don’t want to sound cocky. I’ve just been playing well,” Na said. “The putter was very cold on the West Coast and I’ve been striking the ball very well and my caddy keeps tell me, ‘Kevin, wait, you’re going to be in contention a lot more this year, just wait.’ I believe him.”
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3. SENDEN SOARS: Count John Senden as a proud member of the Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course fan club.
He finished tied for second the first two times he played here – in 2007 and ’08 – and has never missed since. He loved it on Saturday, shooting a bogey-free 64 to vault into third place. Afterwards, Senden said his game was sharp and called it one of his best rounds of the year (He shot 63 two weeks ago at the Honda Classic).
“I finally have taken it from the range to the golf course,” he said.
Senden, 42, hit 16 of 18 greens and made birdies from both short and long range. He chipped close at the first for a tap-in birdie, then stuck his approach from 183 yards to 2 feet at the third. He knocked a birdie putt in from 10 feet at the fifth and toured the front in 33.
At the 12th, he rolled in a 41-foot uphill putt. He didn’t have to worry about the grain at the par-3 13th. Senden aimed for the TV tower behind the green and said he blocked it at least 10 yards right. “I knew it was going to be close,” he said. It was right on the money, stopping within a foot of the hole.
Senden sailed through Nos. 13-17 in par and polished off his round of 64 by watching his 32-foot birdie putt at 18 break into the heart of the hole.
“He stuffed it a bunch and when he wasn’t hitting it close he made long putts,” said Morgan Hoffmann, who played alongside Senden. “It was his day.”
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4. GOOSEN GOES LOW: Retief Goosen shot his “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 fifth place at 4 under. With six straight pars to start his round, Goosen expressed his frustration to his caddie.
“Walking down six, I said Mark (Pittock, his caddie), ‘I can’t make a putt’ and suddenly I made one on seven and, hallelujah, it started happening,” Goosen said.
Goosen, who won at Innisbrook in 2003 and 2009, ended up leading the field in strokes gained-putting for the third round (3.515). He canned an 11-footer with a big right-to-left break and then the putts started dropping in bunches. Goosen tacked on birdies on eight from 26 feet and nine from 10 feet to turn in 33.
The putter heated up again on the back with birdies at Nos. 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.
Out of 5,400 rounds of 64 or better shot on Tour since 1983, there have been 192 of 64 or better without making a single birdie on a par 5. However, of those 192 rounds of 64 or better Goosen’s was only the sixth that had to play four par 5s in their respective rounds (and the first since Jeev Milka Singh in the fourth round at the 2009 Turning Stone Resort Championship).
“This golf course doesn’t give you anything,” Goosen said.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Goosen’s 64 was his best round since a third-round 63 at the 2012 RBC Canadian Open. . . . Justin Rose posted a 69 and is alone in fourth place. “I think that was probably my most solid round of the year so far,” he said. . . . Garrigus ranks No. 118 in strokes gained putting for the year (-.176), but through three rounds this week ranks fourth (+1.897). . . . There were 72 players who made the 54-hole cut at 5-over 218. . . . The Copperhead Course played more than a stroke easier in the third round (71.31) than the previous two days.