By Christopher Powers
Rickie Fowler gave himself a huge cushion two years ago at the Honda Classic, firing rounds of 66, 66 and 65. That allowed him to card a messy one-over 71 on Sunday and still win, a 71 that included a double bogey and five bogeys, two of which came on his final two holes. His 54-hole lead was a safe one, and yet it still opened the door for someone to catch him had they shot a really low round.
So Fowler understands better than anyone how quickly things can unravel at PGA National, which is why he feels like he’s in a great position through 54 holes this week. The five-time tour winner’s third-round 66, which featured five birdies and just one bogey, has him two off the lead of Wyndham Clark.
“No lead is safe here, really,” said Fowler. “I should know; two years ago I was four shots clear, and there’s a lot of water around this place. There’s a lot of things that can happen. I made double on 6 that year, and I think the lead was down to one at that point, and I made 7 on 6 on Thursday. It’s not just that hole. As I said, there’s a lot of water out here, and you can still get some mud at times in the fairways, and when you’re trying to be pretty precise on lines and distances and you have to deal with mud and wind, there’s a lot of factors.”
If Fowler can limit the damage on Sunday and shoot a good score, he could be in line for his second win at this place, which would be a first since the tournament moved to Jack Nicklaus’ Champion Course in 2007.
“Big thing for me tomorrow is keeping it as clean as possible,” he said. “I’m going to have to come from behind, and with that, you can’t really make mistakes. When you do have that three, four-shot lead, it gives you a little bit of a cushion.
“But like I said, there’s not a big enough cushion out here.”
Clark, whose cushion is just one shot, posted a three-under 67 on Saturday, a somewhat disappointing result considering he was five under through seven holes. But bogeys at nine, 13 and 15 slowed him down, though he was still able to position himself for a potential maiden tour victory.
“It was a dream start,” Clark said. “Obviously you dream about that, and to pull it off was great, and just having that cushion makes you feel a little bit relaxed playing to the tough holes on the back side. I made some errant shots and swings, but I knew if I just got it in play and got it on the green, I was going to have a chance to make par.”
The Honda is only his 19th event on the PGA Tour, so on Sunday, he’ll be leaning on some high-pressure experience from both college and last year on the Web.com Tour, where he had four top 10s.
“You know, for me, it’s just fun being in contention,” he said. “I love the moment. I love playing in front of fans, and I love to win. So I want to be there on Sundays, and the fact that I am is great, and looking forward, it’s just going to help me build momentum.”
Three players are tied for second at six under, including 56-year-old Vijay Singh, who shot a five-under 65. He’ll play alongside Clark in the final grouping as he looks for his first PGA Tour win in more than a decade.