Adam Scott was losing ground Saturday at Firestone when he decided to stick with what was working. Four birdies later, he had a 4-under 66 and a one-shot lead in the Bridgestone Invitational.
On a day when seven players had a share of the lead at one point, Scott went back to a left-to-right shape off the tee and surged through the back nine to take a one-shot lead over Jason Day and Ryo Ishikawa, the 19-year-old from Japan who will try to become the youngest winner of a PGA Tour event in 100 years.
Scott was at 12-under 198, the lowest 54-hole score at Firestone in 10 years.
About the only thing Tiger Woods can now get out of this week is four rounds and some points to help him qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs at the end of the month. Woods, a seven-time winner at Firestone who hasn’t played in nearly three months, struggled again with his putting and had a 72. He was 13 shots behind in a tie for 38th in the 76-man field.
”I’ve just got to put together a good round and let it build,” Woods said.
Scott atop the leaderboard should be compelling enough, especially with Woods back to golf. It was only two weeks ago when Woods announced he had fired his caddie, and Scott picked him up on a full-time basis.
But that’s become old news because of the youngest player in the field.
Ishikawa might be the only other player in golf to appreciate what it’s like to get attention like Woods. He has been a star in Japan since he won his first tournament as a 15-year-old amateur, and his 10 wins on the Japan Golf Tour include shooting a 58 in the final round to win The Crowns.
He doesn’t get much respect in these parts because he has struggled in America, with only one top 10 in 2010 when Ishikawa reached the third round of the Match Play Championship.
But a tie for 20th in the Masters helped put him at ease, and while he arrived in Ohio after a missed cut in Japan, he has hit his stride among the tree-lined fairways of Firestone Country Club.
Ishikawa opened with three birdies on the front nine and never eased back, making enough escapes out of the trees and a few more birdies for a 64 that put him in the final group of this World Golf Championship.
A win would make him the youngest winner of a PGA Tour-sponsored event since John McDermott won the 1911 US Open at 19. McDermott was one week younger.
”I think it’s a little too early to think about winning this whole thing as of now,” Ishikawa said through a translator. ”But I do feel that I was able to play at a pretty good level, pretty high level today. Actually, I am a little bit surprised how I performed out there.”
Already mature for his age, Ishikawa stunned even his peers when he announced in March the was donating all his earnings this year to the tsunami relief fund in Japan. So far, that has amounted to about $740,000, and his pledge for money from his birdies and eagles has added some $215,000.
Day took an early lead with an eagle on the par-5 second hole, gave it back with consecutive bogeys to start the back nine and finished with a flourish, three birdies over his last five holes for a 66.
It wasn’t enough to put him in the final group with Scott. They played together in the final round of the Masters, and both looked as though they might win until Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes for a two-shot victory.
”He really impressed me at Augusta on Sunday when I think back to how he played,” Scott said.
The third round was played early to avoid forecasted thunderstorms. Sunday returns to regular twosomes, and Scott doesn’t expect it to be a duel at the top. If conditions stay dry, and the fairways get faster, it puts a premium on just about everything. Nine players were within five shots of the lead.
PGA Tour rookie Keegan Bradley had a 68 and was two shots behind, along with Martin Laird (67). The group another shot behind included world No. 1 Luke Donald, who had a 64 despite a bogey on the last hole, and Rickie Fowler, who holed out from the fairway for eagle for the second straight day. He needed that for a 69, although he is still only three shots behind as he goes for his first win.
Woods opened with a bogey that started with shots to the right and left of the fairway, and he didn’t hit a single fairway on the front nine. He attributed that to hitting the ball straighter, which is something he’s not used to doing.