Garcia shot 4-under 66 on Saturday to take the lead at 14-under 196 after three rounds at the Wyndham Championship.
It’s a familiar spot for the Spaniard, who shared the third-round lead in 2009 but finished fourth after falling a stroke shy of a three-man playoff.
“Eighteen pars are not going to win it,” Garcia said. “You have to make some birdies out there. ... I don’t have a number. I’m not going to say I need to shoot 4 under, 5 under, or whatever. Someone might go out and shoot 9 under, and 5 under’s not good enough.”
Tim Clark and Bud Cauley were a stroke back, and Jason Dufner, Harris English and Carl Pettersson were at 12 under in the last event before the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Dufner shot 63 – the day’s best round. Cauley had 66, Clark shot 67, and English and Pettersson had 68s.
Garcia – whose second-round 63 marked his best PGA Tour round in a decade – made a move with consecutive birdies midway through the back nine that briefly helped him leapfrog his playing partner, Clark.
Garcia plopped his tee shot 4 feet from the flagstick on the par-3 12th and tapped in, then followed that with a birdie on No. 13 to move to 14 under. Then, after just his second bogey of the tournament, he bounced back with a birdie on No. 15.
If he can keep it rolling for one more round, he might claim his first win on the tour since 2008 – and strengthen his chances to make the European Ryder Cup team.
“Winning means a lot, no matter what,” Garcia said.
Clark might have had the lead comfortably to himself, had he not missed short birdie putts on consecutive holes midway through the back nine.
Instead, he’ll have to settle for a share of second place with Cauley, who had three consecutive late birdies.
“Today, the scoring was out there and obviously, the leaders didn’t really get away from anyone,” Clark said. “I felt like we all could have gone a little bit lower, but it’s going to be the same tomorrow, really. A shootout. There’s so many guys, probably, still in this tournament.”
It’s usually a birdiefest every August at this Donald Ross-designed course, but for most players, it seems to be playing a little tougher this year. The cut of 1 under was the tournament’s highest since it moved to Sedgefield in 2008.
The average winner’s score in four years at this course has been 19 under, and it sure looks as if this year’s champ – whomever it is – will approach that number.
Webb Simpson, a native North Carolinian and college star here who won the U.S. Open in June, won it at 18 under last year and came back to defend a title for the first time in his short career.
The only player with consecutive victories in this tournament has his name on the winner’s trophy: Sam Snead, who did it twice – in 1949-50 and 1955-56.
Simpson started one stroke back and a short while after his birdie on the par-5 No. 5 – the easiest, and most frequently eagled, hole on the course this week – was part of a six-man logjam that shared the lead at 12 under. Joining him were English, Clark, Garcia, Pettersson and second-round leader Jimmy Walker.
English was the first to backslide with a bogey on No. 11. Walker fell off the pace with a bogey on No. 10.
Simpson ran into big trouble late in his round with consecutive bogeys, sending his tee shot on No. 15 into some deep rough and then three-putting on No. 16, and his 71 dropped him four strokes back.
Dufner, who at No. 3 is the top player in the playoff standings in the Wyndham field, finished strong with birdies on three of his final four holes to sneak up the leaderboard.
“Kind of what I needed to get back in this tournament, post a low score and kind of be in the mix tomorrow,” Dufner said.
Justin Leonard, who shot a 64, was one of the biggest movers. He started at 4 under and used a steady stream of birdies to make his climb. He needs a high finish to earn enough points to qualify for the playoffs, which begin next week at The Barclays.
“I know I need a top-three, top-four finish and ... I certainly gave myself a better chance,” Leonard said.
Jeff Overton had the first hole-in-one of the week – and his first on the tour – on No. 12, using a 6-iron to ace the 196-yard hole. After finishing his round, he tweeted: “What a sweet shot. Too bad i didnt win a car.”