LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Scott Verplank was two shots behind with three holes to play Saturday, then surged into a share of the lead at the Children’s Miracle Network simply by making pars.
Verplank, one of six players who had at least a share of the lead on a wild afternoon at Disney, wound up with a 71 and was tied with Stephen Ames going into a final round.
On a pristine day outside the Magic Kingdom, chaos reigned on the closing holes at a tournament that used to be known for birdies falling as often as the whistle blows at Thunder Mountain.
Ames, who had a two-shot lead at one point, bogeyed two of his last three holes with three-putts that measured 60 and 70 feet. He had to settle for a 70, but had few complaints about still being in the lead.
The man of few words was Brett Wetterich, who might have joined the leaders except for his triple bogey on the final hole when he suffered a two-stroke penalty for accidentally moving a twig inside the hazard while deciding whether to play the shot. He had a 72 and walked off the course without speaking to reporters or a PGA Tour official.
Once he cools down, Wetterich might realize he’s still in the hunt.
Then again, just about everyone is.
“There’s got to be 30 guys that have a chance to win,” Verplank said.
Verplank and Ames were at 13-under 203, with Justin Leonard (70) and long-shot Tag Ridings (71) in the five-way tie for third. Two dozen players were separated by four shots going into the final round of the final PGA Tour event of the year.
“If you play steady tomorrow, you’ll have some birdie opportunities and be at the top of the board at the end of the day,” Ames said.
He played better than most, riding consecutive birdies on the 13th and 14th holes to a two-shot lead before his approach shots went to the opposite end of the green from where the flag was whipping in the wind.
That’s no disgrace on the Magnolia Course, at least not anymore.
The final three holes measure 451 yards, 489 yards and 473 yards, and the soggy conditions for a week of rain made it play even longer. Leonard hit 4-iron for his second shot on all three of them, dropping one shot but still staying in the picture as he tries to win for the second time or at worst qualify for the Masters.
“It wasn’t an easy day,” Leonard said. “If you could shoot a couple under, you knew you weren’t going to lose ground.”
Wetterich lost all his ground on one hole.
His name was never far from the lead after an eagle on the par-5 10th, and he was only one shot behind when his tee shot on the 18th hole went left into the hazard. He took out an iron to see if he had a shot, but during one of his pre-shot waggles, the club moved a twig, and it’s a two-stroke penalty for moving a loose impediment in the hazard.
Then came another penalty for taking the drop, and two putts from 20 feet for his triple bogey.
Verplank lost ground early.
He had gone 40 holes without a bogey at Disney until making his first one of the tournament on the par-4 fifth when he blasted a bunker shot 40 feet past the pin. He chipped weakly and missed a 6-foot par putt on the next hole to fall out of the lead.
From there, it became a revolving door of leaders with five players tied at one point.
When it finally sorted itself out, Verplank and Ames were on top and will be in the final group with Tim Petrovic, who played bogey-free on the back nine and quietly posted a 68.
Also at 204 were Mathew Goggin (69) and Jeff Overton (69). Heath Slocum shot a 69 and was alone in eighth at 205, followed by a group that included Wetterich, Rich Beem (70), Stewart Cink (70) and Robert Gamez (67).
It was a huge day for Gamez, who was is 152nd on the money list and at least wants to get inside the top 150 to secure some status for next year. Even better would be the top 125 for full status, and now he’s only three shots away from the lead, knowing that a victory would sew up his job for two years.
Ridings, though, is the ultimate long shot. He was the 14th alternate when the field was set last week and got into the tournament. But at No. 210 on the money list, he needs nothing short of a victory to keep his card. Ridings was four shots behind on the back nine, seemingly sliding, but with the calamity that followed, he was right in the middle of it all.
Beem was among those tied for the lead, but made three straight bogeys for a 70. The former PGA champion is playing his fifth straight week, even though he locked up his card last week, and he’s feeling the fatigue.
After a birdie on the 13th — a hole where he made eagle 2 on Friday — Beem flashed a 2-3 with his fingers, presumably his score.
“Oh, that’s not my scores,” he said. “That’s how many holes are left (23) until I’m done.”
It could take all 18 holes Sunday to figure out who wins the last event of the season.
DIVOTS: In perhaps the most baffling move of the day, Golf Channel cut off coverage of the third round when the leaders still had two holes to play. The reason? So it could switch to the Nationwide Tour event in San Diego. All viewers missed were Wetterich’s bizarre penalty strokes that led to triple bogey and Ames’ bogey on the 18th that reshaped the leaderboard. … J.B. Holmes, who was 126th on the money list, shot a 70 and was among those three off the lead. Holmes already was assured his card for next year from his 2006 victory in Phoenix, but finishing in the top 125 gets him into The Players Championship.