PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Ian Poulter took a big step toward ending his two-year victory drought Sunday by playing bogey-free on rain-softened PGA National for a 4-under 66, giving him a three-shot lead going into the final round of the Honda Classic.
It was the first time Poulter has ever had a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.
And his work was just getting started.
The third round was washed out Saturday because of nearly 5 inches of rain that toppled a few trees, flooded bunkers and even created mounds of air bubbles on one green. Not long after signing his card, Poulter headed right back out for the fourth round to get in as many holes as possible before sunset. The trophy won’t be handed out until Monday, and it was too early for the 39-year-old from England to even get a hand on it.
Poulter was at 9-under 201.
Padraig Harrington sputtered at the start, rallied on the back and then saved par on the par-5 18th when his second shot went into the water. He salvaged a 71 and was three shots behind, along with Patrick Reed, who had a 70.
Brendan Steele the only other player within five shots of Poulter. He had a 71 and was at 4-under 206. Phil Mickelson traded birdies with bogeys, and had a double bogey on the par-5 third hole, in his round of 69 that put him six shots back.
Poulter has made only one bogey over his last 38 holes. The only times he came even remotely close to dropping a shot was after a poor chip to 5 feet on the third and a shot over the 11th green, from where he chipped to 4 feet. He pulled ahead with a superb shot into 5 feet on the sixth hole, added a birdie on the par-3 seventh to get some separation and kept everyone else at bay the rest of the third round.
“Every hole today was crucial, and every hole that we’re going to go and play right now will be,” Poulter said after signing his card.
Poulter has two PGA Tour victories, both of them World Golf Championships. He won the Match Play Championship in Arizona in 2010 for his first – and only – victory on American soil, and then beat a world-class field at the HSBC Champions in China at the end of 2012, where Mickelson, Ernie Els and Jason Dufner tied for second.
But that was his last victory. He tied for third at Muirfield in the 2013 British Open. He was runner-up in Turkey last year. This was his best chance to end the drought.
The real stars at PGA National were the grounds crew.
They worked through the night and used 12 pumps to get the water off the course and rebuild the bunkers. The course was filled with so much water that superintendent Lukus Harvey said the crew had to chase an alligator out of three fairway bunkers to clear out the water, and a few water moccasins became real-life hazards.
“Makes for an interesting night,” he said.
Poulter made an interesting afternoon in balmy conditions, rolling in a 30-foot birdie putt on the opening hole. So did Harrington. He pulled his tee shot into the water hazard on No. 2, removed his socks and shoes to play a great shot, only to miss a 4-foot par save. Harrington three-putted from 25 feet on No. 7 and missed a 6-foot par putt on the 10th to fall behind. But he birdied two of the next three, and his par save on the 18th kept him in the game.
“I played much better than my score,” Harrington said. “Struggled on the greens. Obviously, got it together more on the last nine holes.”
Harrington won the Indonesian Open last year, his second Asian Tour victory. But his last PGA Tour win was the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills.