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Michael Thompson felt like he was playing in a U.S. Open whenever he saw his golf ball in the rough or the scores on the leaderboard at the Honda Classic.
No one was going anywhere Saturday at PGA National.
In cool, blustery conditions on a course with water hazards at nearly every turn, the strategy was to keep the head down and keep big numbers off the scorecard. Thompson and PGA Tour rookie Luke Guthrie managed to do that well enough to share the lead going into the final round.
Guthrie was tested his first time in the last group on tour and made a collection of solid pars on his final eight holes for a 1-over 71. Thompson accepted his bogeys and finished with a two-putt birdie on the 18th for a 70.
They were at 8-under 202, and while the conditions were tough, equally daunting were some of the names behind him.
Lee Westwood, who moved his family down the road from PGA National over the Christmas break, rallied over the last five holes by chipping in for birdie, making an 18-foot birdie putt on the 17th and salvaging par after hitting into the water on the par-5 18th. That gave him a 70 and put him only two shots behind.
He was tied with Geoff Ogilvy, who appears to have snapped out of his putting doldrums that cost him dearly on the West Coast. Ogilvy recovered from three bogeys in four holes at the start of his round by making a 7-foot birdie putt at the end for a 70.
By one shot, Ogilvy missed staying in the top 50 at the end of last year for an automatic invitation to the Masters. He has slipped to No. 79, but a win today would take care of that, and runner-up alone at least should get him into the top 50 and earn a spot at Doral next week.
The Australian summed up the day perfectly.
“Even par for the day was never going to go backward,” Ogilvy said. “It was only going to go forward, and I did that.”
Eleven players were separated by four shots going into the final round, a group that included Charles Howell III, Keegan Bradley, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler, who surged into the picture with a birdie-eagle finish for a 69. He was the only player among the last 46 players to tee off who broke par.
None of the top 20 players going into Saturday did better than 70.
“The rough is definitely, exactly like a U.S. Open,” Thompson said. “You just have to take your medicine and make your bogey, just try to eliminate the doubles out here and just try to play smart golf and know that you’re going to make a couple birdies.”