AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - American Jim Furyk, seeking his first PGA Tour victory in two years, survived a testing back nine with several ice-cool par saves to cling on to the lead in Saturday’s third round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Two shots ahead overnight, Furyk briefly led by five before ending a muggy and increasingly breezy day at the fast-running Firestone Country Club one stroke clear of the chasing pack.
The veteran American carded a level-par 70 on the challenging South Course where several greens were not receptive to approach shots to finish at 11-under 199, one ahead of South African Louis Oosthuizen, who fired a three-birdie 68.
American Keegan Bradley, who will defend his PGA Championship title at Kiawah Island in South Carolina next week, was a further three strokes back at seven under after carding a 67.
Tiger Woods, in pursuit of a record eighth Bridgestone Invitational crown, rebounded from two days of putting woes at Firestone to shoot a 68 for a level-par total of 210, a distant 11 shots off the pace.
“The golf course definitely played tougher today,” Furyk, 42, told reporters after offsetting an early birdie with a bogey at the par-three 12th.
”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.
“I didn’t have as many opportunities, kind of ground it out today. I‘m real happy with the way I stroked the ball and pretty pleased with the way I played today.”
Furyk, who clinched the most recent of his 16 PGA Tour victories at the 2010 season-ending Tour Championship, made a good start to the third round, a birdie at the par-five second putting him four ahead.
When Oosthuizen bogeyed the par-four eighth, Furyk’s lead increased to five but the South African immediately recovered with a birdie at the ninth to reach the turn in even-par 35.
Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion, picked up further shots at the 12th, where he drained a 25-footer, and 16th to close the gap while Furyk bogeyed the 12th after missing the green to the right off the tee.
However, Furyk safely parred the last six holes to maintain his one-shot advantage going into Sunday’s final round when the tee times have been brought forward due to predicted thunderstorms.
Oosthuizen, who has won twice worldwide this year, was delighted to be in position to challenge for his first victory in an elite World Golf Championships (WGC) event.
”Tomorrow is a great opportunity for me, a great spot to be in and to test myself in these events,“ the 29-year-old said. ”I mean, this is almost as big as a major.
“I know the weather is coming in a bit. It’s going to be a tough day. It’ll be a lot of fun playing with Jim and Keegan.”
Woods, who totaled 62 putts in the first two rounds while carding scores of 70 and 72, was relieved to feel more comfortable on the greens on Saturday as he broke par for the first time this week.
“I hit the ball well enough to be in the top five and could have made a run just by being in that position if I would have putted well the first couple of days,” the 36-year-old said.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who clinched his maiden major title at last year’s U.S. Open, was delighted to climb into a tie for fourth after shooting a second successive 67.
“I hit the ball well from tee to green, and I took a few of my chances early on,” the 23-year-old said after mixing four birdies with a lone bogey. “I actually had a couple of big saves around four, five and six, and just finished it off well.”
British world number four Lee Westwood endured a nightmare day, hitting only three of 14 fairways on the way to 81, his worst score on the PGA Tour since he carded a third-round 80 at the Players Championship in 2005, leaving him at 11-over-par.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Simon Evans