Nassau (Bahamas): Bubba Watson, lurking near the top of the leaderboard for past two rounds, made the right moves on the traditional moving day at the Hero World Challenge. On another fine scoring day, Watson pulled ahead by two shots in the third round on Saturday. In the process, he equalled a course record that had been set barely 10 minutes before him by Paul Casey (63) in the group ahead him and also became the first sole leader in three days after the leaderboard had given an extremely congested look earlier.
United States' Bubba Watson watches his tee shot during the Round Three of Hero World Challenge at Albany in Nassau on Saturday. Pic/AFP
Watson was at 19-under 197, one short of the 54-hole tournament record Jordan Spieth set last year at Isleworth.
Twenty minutes after Watson return with a 63, Spieth (68) commented, "It was a day where you really needed to shoot lower. Par for the course is 5 under, especially in these conditions."
Spieth, one of the three overnight leaders, who slipped to Tied-fifth despite four-under 68, added, "All the par 5s are pretty simple. You've got to lay up on 9th, but other than that they're just long par 4s with a couple drivable par 4s as well."
Watson is now two shots clear of Paul Casey (66), while Patrick Reed (66) and Chris Kirk (65) are 16-under. Spieth (68) is Tied-fifth alongside overnight co-leader Bill Haas (68) at 15-under), while the third overnight leader, Jimmy Walker (71) dropped to Tied-11th.
Debutant Anirban Lahiri had another disappointing day on the greens. The 28-year-old Indian shot one-over 73, and was four-under 212 on Tied 15th, down a place from overnight Tied-14th.
India's Anirban Lahiri
"It is all the more disappointing because the past couple of days have been good to score," said Lahiri. On the play on Saturday, he said, "I just could not get going, neither on front or back nines. It was overall quite disappointing as I got off to a bad start and never got any momentum going."
A mud ball (meaning mud was stuck on the ball, but he could not lift to clean it because it was not on the greens) resulted in a bogey on the fourth for Lahiri, his only bogey on the front nine. "The mud ball on fourth lead to an errant approach shot and a resultant bogey," said Lahiri, who also missed a short putt on seventh.
A second bogey on 13th was followed by back-to-back birdies on 14th and 15th but a final bogey on 17th killed any chances of a recovery, at least for the day. Earlier, Lahiri did make a couple of good par saves, but continued to miss short putts, like another four-footer on seventh.
"Anyway I will try to finish strongly in the final round of the tournament, after which I will be taking time off for a while," added Lahiri, who plays with Bahamas-resident Justin Rose in the final round.
Watson very nearly missed the tournament as his daughter, Dakota, did not have a passport said, "We backed out of this tournament one time because Dakota didn't have her passport." At that time Watson, not wanting to spend more time away from his family, decided to skip the event.
But Watson's wife Angie went through the process and got the passport done. Then all of a sudden Watson got a late call as Jason Day pulled out after becoming a dad. That put Watson back in the field and now he on is within hand-shaking distance of winning the event, where his previous best in five appearances has been Tied-third in 2013.
Watson, 67-67 for first two rounds, had an electric start with a birdie-birdie-par-eagle start in the third round. When he birdied the sixth, too, he was five-under for six holes. The eagle on par-4 fourth came when he holed from the fairway with a 7-Iron. Overall he had seven birdies and an eagle in a bogey-free round.
Ten minutes before Watson finished, Casey handed his card with a then record round of 63 that saw him land six birdies on front nine and three more in first four holes on back to get to nine-under after 13. But the birdies dried up after that and left him at 17-under and two behind Watson.
Watson said, "As we're seeing, when there's no wind -- light wind -- we can score. We're all good players, don't get me wrong. We're all top 50 in the world. But with no wind, this golf course is a little bit easier to make birdies. Obviously, 20 mile-an-hour winds, this golf course becomes a beast."