HONOLULU (AP) — Robert Allenby had every reason to skip the pro-am at the Sony Open this week because of an ankle sprain that turned the bottom of his right foot purple and made it difficult to walk even a flat course like Waialae.
One reason he played was to see how a bum ankle would affect his swing, and to learn to accept bad shots.
There haven’t been too many when it counted.
He made three birdies from inside 4 feet for a 3-under 67 on Saturday and was tied for the lead with Ryan Palmer, the first time Allenby has been atop a PGA Tour leaderboard through 54 holes in more than six years.
“I wanted to have a feel for how I was going to play golf,” Allenby said of his decision to play the pro-am Wednesday. “I think it was a good thing for me. It enabled me in my mind that I’d hit a lot of (bad) shots, but I’d be able to accept it. When you know there’s a problem, it’s a lot easier to accept.”
Palmer also played bogey-free in his round of 68, two-putting from long range on the final two holes – one for par, one for birdie. The last one gave him a share of the lead at 11-under 199, and another date with Allenby in the final group.
Neither of them were spectacular, although they didn’t need to be with no one making a big move.
Eleven players started the third round within three shots of the lead. When the sun dipped below the Pacific horizon, Allenby and Palmer had a three-shot margin over Davis Love III (68), Troy Matteson (68), Steve Stricker (69) and defending champion Zach Johnson (70).
Five more players were another shot back, including a pair of 50-year-olds in Tom Lehman and Michael Allen.
All their hopes start with the play of Allenby and Palmer, who have been steady throughout.
“If I can go out tomorrow and shoot under par, someone will have to shoot a good round to catch or pass us,” Palmer said.
Allenby last had a share of the 54-hole lead at Sahalee in a World Golf Championship in August 2002, and his most recent PGA Tour victory was the Pennsylvania Classic in 2001, the first event after the Sept. 11 attacks.
He has won seven times around the world since then, including the Australia “Triple Crown” in 2005 when he won his native country’s Masters, PGA and Open championships. And he is coming off consecutive victories last month in South Africa and Australia.
“I’m moving in the right direction,” Allenby said. “I may not win tomorrow, but I believe I will definitely win this year. And when I do, I’ll win again and again. With me, it’s just confidence. When I get the confidence going, I feel like I can do anything. I have that confidence right now, and I’m very patient. Hopefully, I can do what’s needed.”
Into a stiff breeze from just over 150 yards, Allenby hit a 6-iron that settled 4 feet behind the flag for a birdie on No. 2 to erase Palmer’s small lead. He also hit a delicate pitch-and-run to 2 feet on the 10th, and a wedge to about the same distance on the 12th.
His best shot might have been a 5-iron around the trees on the 13th, which bounced onto the green for an easy par.
Palmer can relate, as his most memorable shot also led to par.
His wedge got away from him on the 16th hole and landed on the back slope of a bunker, leaving him little room to bring the club down steeply to carry the clip. He thought about a putter to get into the middle of a bunker, a hit-and-hope sand wedge, even a utility club to slam it up the front of the bunker.
Palmer settled on a 7-iron that came out perfectly, caught a good bounce and settled 6-feet away for a remarkable save.
“It’s a big help having a three-shot lead,” Palmer said. “That’s still a lot to make up in one round of golf, especially if the wind keeps blowing. I’m very ecstatic with where I’m at. I couldn’t be in a better spot.”
Stricker missed four birdie putts inside 10 feet, so he was thrilled to see a 12-footer from the fringe fall for birdie on the final hole, leaving him in range.
“Very important,” Stricker said. “It’s a good start for tomorrow. I’ll only be about three shots back, and not a lot of guys in between. So I’ve got a shot at it.”
So does Love, who has made only two bogeys all week at Waialae. He didn’t make many birdie putts Saturday, although a few 4-foot par putts saved the day. A victory would be the easiest way for Love to get into the Masters, and get him headed back to where he feels he belongs.
“If I can hole a few more putts, I’ve got as good of a chance as anyone,” Love said.
DIVOTS: Among those who missed the 54-hole cut was Sean O’Hair, who had a 74. He is headed home to Philadelphia to get tests on a stress fracture in his left arm and likely won’t return until Pebble Beach or Match Play. … Tom Lehman, using a one-time exemption from career money, said he plans to divide his time between the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour the rest of the year. His PGA Tour plans include Phoenix, Pebble Beach and Riviera.