Luke Donald is a round away from owning golf’s No. 1 ranking after a 1-under 70 on Saturday left him one stroke in front of defending champion Jim Furyk through three rounds of The Heritage.
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Donald overcame a double bogey and bogey on the front nine to catch Furyk with a birdie on the 16th hole. The Englishman finished at 11-under 202.
Furyk held the lead for much of his back nine at Harbour Town Golf Links, but made bogey on the closing lighthouse hole for a 69 to drop back.
Brendan de Jonge (66) and Scott Verplank (67) are two shots behind at 9 under. Masters runner-up Jason Day (71), Ricky Barnes (67) and Tommy Gainey (67) are a stroke further back at 8 under.
Donald is third in the world behind top-rated Martin Kaymer and No. 2 Lee Westwood. But Donald would claim the top spot with a victory at Harbour Town, no matter how countryman Westwood fares at the Indonesian Masters where he holds a five-stroke lead.
Kaymer is not playing this week.
Donald and Westwood exchanged ”Good luck” messages on Twitter before their third rounds.
”I think I have an opportunity to go out there and win and if I do, I know what happens,” Donald said. ”It’s just friendly banter.”
Donald has finished second and third here the past two years, yet it appeared the talk of No. 1 may have finally gotten to him on the second hole. Donald put his approach shot to the par-5 hole out of bounds left, leading to a double bogey and giving up the lead.
But Donald, who won the Match Play Championship, called on the steady, focused style that made him one of the world’s best to move back to the top with birdies on the fifth and seventh holes.
Donald’s put his approach on the 16th hole to 3 feet for his final birdie to reach 11 under.
Donald credited solid par saves on the third and fourth holes for regaining his resolve. ”Those up-and-downs and keeping some momentum going where I wasn’t going completely backwards was big for me,” he said
Furyk had his chance to hold on to a share of the lead, but sent his second shot on the 18th hole into a bunker behind the green, and could not make the 16-footer for par after blasting out.
Furyk and Donald will be paired in Sunday’s final group for what sets up as a fabulous finish in what might be the final Heritage. A PGA Tour fixture since 1969, the tournament is without a title sponsor which tour and event leaders say is essential for returning in 2012.
No matter the order, Donald and Furyk have had some memorable duels on the golf course.
Furyk saved par from the bunker on the 72nd hole of last year’s Tour Championship to beat Donald by a stroke and win the $10 million FedEx Cup. A week later, Donald beat Furyk 1 up in Ryder Cup singles to help bring Europe to victory.
Both have become Harbour Town masters, combining for 14 rounds in the 60s over the past three tournaments.
”I think I’m there, I’m in position and when I play well I feel like this golf course really suits my game,” Furyk said.