Robert Garrigus recovered from an atrocious start on Saturday by holing a 50-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole to join Steve Stricker and Jonathan Byrd in the lead after three rounds of the Tournament of Champions.
Garrigus hit a four-iron into a hazard to open with double bogey and followed with a bogey to quickly fall out of the lead he held after two rounds. By the end of the third, he was back where he started.
The eagle gave Garrigus a four-under 69 and a good chance to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2000 to win the season opener after winning the final event of the previous year.
Stricker turned an impossible lie into an unlikely birdie on the 12th hole, avoiding a loose piece of grass behind his ball in the bunker by hitting a four-iron to within five feet of the hole. It was part of a five straight birdies that carried him to an eight-under 65, a score he didn’t think was possible in a strong wind that makes the Plantation Course play at its longest.
Byrd, who has been near the lead all week, was steady as usual.
He nearly holed a wedge on the 16th and settled for a tap-in birdie, but his pitch to the 18th was just long enough that it trickled down a slope and rolled 50 feet away. His two-putt par gave him a 67.
All three were at 18-under 201, three shots clear of Carl Pettersson, who had a 71.
Matt Kuchar had the lead at one point by making seven birdies in a nine-hole stretch, but he played even par during the final six holes for a 66 and wound up four shots out of the lead. US Open champion Graeme McDowell shot a 68 as he continued to get used to mountain golf atop the Pacific Ocean. He was six shots behind, along with Bill Haas (69).
Stricker began making his move with a birdie on the ninth hole, but the 12th was his shot of the tournament.
Stricker had a grass divot left of his ball in the bunker, which was no problem. There was a 2-inch piece of grass behind the ball and he called for a rules official to ask if he could move it, deep down knowing that he couldn’t. However, what he didn’t realize was that he could not touch the grass piece at any point in his swing.
From 178 yards into the wind, Stricker hit four-iron that he brought from the inside and picked the ball cleanly from the sand. It caught the left side of the green and settled five feet away.
AP, EAST LONDON, SOUTH AFRICA
British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen bogeyed his last hole to fall into a share of the lead with Markus Brier of Austria heading into the final round of the Africa Open on Saturday.
Oosthuizen carded a four-under-par 69, while Brier, who bogeyed the 16th, hit 70 as they finished the third round at 13-under 206, a stroke ahead of defending champion Charl Schwartzel and three others on a packed leaderboard.
Twelve players were within three strokes of the leaders at the 6,104m East London Golf Club.
Branden Grace of South Africa, who shared the overnight lead with Brier and Miles Tunnicliff of England, appeared to be sailing serenely to a comfortable lead going into the final round before he misjudged his second into the 16th, going through the green. Twice in succession, he was unable to get a club on the ball as he swung at it buried in thick grass.
The resulting triple-bogey seven saw him slip out of sole possession of the lead at 15-under to 12-under with two holes to play.
Ahead of him, however, Oosthuizen, who had inherited the sole lead at 14-under, had to take a penalty drop when he hit his tee shot into unplayable rough on 18. He was unable to salvage par, slipping to 13-under for the tournament co-sanctioned by the European and Sunshine Tours.
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