AKRON, Ohio — A steady diet of pars kept Jim Furyk in the lead Saturday in the Bridgestone Invitational, but not by much.
Furyk made his only birdie on the par-5 second hole and had to rely on a couple of strong par saves on the back nine at Firestone for an even-par 70, giving him a one-shot lead over Louis Oosthuizen going into the final round of this World Golf Championship.
Furyk began the week with 63, and he’s not sure he didn’t hit the ball better in the third round.
Under three days of sun-baked conditions, the greens lost their moisture and enough wind arrived to make players think more than they would prefer.
Oosthuizen had to scramble for pars at the start before he settled into his round of 68.
Keegan Bradley, who can move into the top eight in the Ryder Cup standings with a runner-up finish, had 67 and is four shots behind. He will be in the final group today, when the tee times are pushed forward to avoid thunderstorms forecast throughout the day.
And that could change everything.
Instead of approach shots that spun back, even a wedge was taking a big bounce forward, making it tough to get it close. Furyk wasted the few opportunities he had early in the round, missing from 7 feet for birdie on the third and from 6 right behind the hole on the par-3 fifth hole.
“We had a little bit more wind going on, the greens firmed up a little bit, and I just felt like it was a lot harder to get iron shots close to the pin,” Furyk said.
Furyk led by five strokes on the front nine, though Firestone didn’t yield many birdies. He is at 11-under 199.
Rory McIlroy, with an outside chance of returning to No. 1 in the world if he were to win, had 67 and joined Steve Stricker (68) at 6-under 204, five shots behind. Stricker looked to be closing in on the lead until he hooked his tee shot on the par-5 16th into the base of a pine tree and had to take a penalty shot to be able to make a swing.
Top-ranked Luke Donald also was chipping away, as he often does, until he hit a tree on the last for a bogey for 71, falling seven shots back.
Tiger Woods broke par for the first time all week, though his 68 left him 11 shots behind on a Firestone course where he has won seven times. Woods is taking an optimistic view out of an otherwise drab week – at least he feels as though he’s hitting the ball well.
“Hitting fairways and greens, you’re shooting high rounds of 2-under par and 3-under par, that’s a good sign,” he said. “Those are your worst scores you can possibly shoot that day. It’s not good when you’re shooting those scores and you get absolutely everything out of it.”
The firm conditions and stronger wind let to a few interesting moments.
Masters champion Bubba Watson was pumped up over being able to go at the 648-yard 16th hole with an 8-iron for his second shot. Oosthuizen crushed his tee shot so far that he hit 6-iron. Then again, the green was so firm that no one could putt for eagle. Furyk tried to lay up with a 6-iron that would give him a full shot into the green, and was stunned to see it travel 250 yards. He was so close <0x2014> 68 yards to the pin <0x2014> that he no chance of staying on the green because he couldn’t hit it hard enough to get spin.
And then there was Rafa Cabrera-Bello, who played in the final group Saturday and started two shots behind.
That didn’t last long.
He hit a bunker shot fat and just got onto the thick collar around the first green. For his fourth shot, he shanked a chip that went at a 90-degree angle away from the flag. His fifth shot with the putter came up 12 feet short and he did well to make double bogey. On the next tee shot, he hit a duck hook into the gallery. On the ninth hole, his drive landed square behind a tree, forcing him to pitch to the 10th fairway, only it didn’t go far enough, and his wedge clipped yet another tree.
The Spaniard wound up with a 77.
Worse yet, his plastic bottle of water crinkled at the top of Furyk’s back swing on the par-3 seventh. Furyk had not missed a shot to that point, and this one sailed well right of the green. He glared in the direction of the bottle, figured it was a harmless mistake and holed a 15-foot putt for par.
Those were the putts that kept Furyk in the game.
Lee Westwood would have taken some of those pars. He played alongside Rickie Fowler on Friday when the American shot 80. Westwood got off to about the same start and finished with an 81. He declined comment after his round, but had some fun with Fowler on Twitter.
“You would have beaten me 1up in match play,” Fowler tweeted.
“I’d have offered a half after 9 and gone in for a cold one!” Westwood replied.