Watson ties course record and takes 2-shot lead in Bahamas
NASSAU, Bahamas — Bubba Watson holed out with a 7-iron for eagle, made seven birdies and tied the course record with a 9-under 63 on Saturday to take a two-shot lead over Paul Casey going into the final round of the Hero World Challenge.
Watson's tied the record at Albany Golf Club that had been set 10 minutes earlier by Casey, who had nine birdies on a clean card.
It was an example of what can happen with a world-class field on a course that featured pure greens and virtually no wind. The tee times were moved up to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, and most of the 18-man field had its way with the Ernie Els design.
"As we're seeing, when there's no wind — light wind — we can score," Watson said. "We're all good players, don't get me wrong. We're all top 50 in the world. But with no wind, this golf course is a little bit easier to make birdies. Obviously, 20 mile-an-hour winds, this golf course becomes a beast."
Watson was at 19-under 197, one short of the 54-hole tournament record Jordan Spieth set last year at Isleworth in Florida.
This is the first time the World Challenge is being played at Albany after one year at Isleworth and 14 years at Sherwood Country Club in California.
Spieth, in a three-way tie for the lead with Jimmy Walker and Bill Haas at the start of the day, had a 68 and fell four shots behind.
"I shot 68 and got lapped," Spieth said. "It was a day where you really needed to shoot lower. Par for the course is 5 under, especially in these conditions."
Casey made nine birdies in his opening 13 holes, and then had to settle for par for a third straight day on the reachable par-4 14th. He is among four players who have yet to win anywhere in the world this year.
Casey wants to support the Tiger Woods Foundation for its work with children and education. He also mentioned the world ranking points and the prize money ($1 million) for the winner. And he would like a trophy to show for his good play this year.
"So there's multiple reasons, about four really good reasons," he said about the importance of winning. "Five if you count (Christmas) shopping."
Even with the low scoring, Watson didn't get that much separation. Chris Kirk and Patrick Reed each had a 66 and were three shots behind, followed by Spieth and Haas, who also had a 68.
Woods is the tournament host and followed along the final group throughout the front nine, occasionally giving good friend and NBC Sports reporter Notah Begay a lift.
Watson started the third round one shot behind and made up ground in a hurry with birdies on the first two holes. He faced a little wind from 168 yards in the fairway on No. 4 and chose to take off a little on his 7-iron, which turned out to be a wise move when he holed it for eagle.
He never saw it go in, and there isn't much of a gallery this week.
"I heard a yell," he said. "At least it wasn't my mom yelling. I heard somebody."
Reed was going nowhere with one birdie on the front nine when he saw the scores and figured he better get in gear. Wrapping up his worldwide tour, Reed ran off three straight birdies and then had an eagle on the par-5 15th to get back in the game.
"I finally made a putt and it just kind of propelled me from there," he said.
Spieth is playing his final round of the year Sunday, and he said he would fire at every flag.
"It will be a sprint," he said. "And then relief."
Justin Rose, who now makes his primary home at Albany, finally got it going until a triple bogey on the 18th dropped him to a 70. He was 16 shots behind. The tough finish belonged to Anirban Lahiri, whose tee shot hit and bloodied a spectator on the final hole.
Two hours after the round, Lahiri was still looking for the man to make sure he was OK and perhaps invite him in for lunch.