PALM HARBOR — Luke Donald might be that Cinderella story, the one coming out of practically nowhere.
That’s because, after starting the Valspar Championship’s third round at 1 over par, the 36-year-old Englishman has a good shot at making a late final-round push, just as he did to win this tournament in 2012, when he knocked off 2010 winner Jim Furyk, 54-hole leader Robert Garrigus and Sang-Moon Bae in a four-way playoff on the 18th at the Copperhead course.
“I feel like I’m in a good position,” Donald said after a bogey-free 67 to get to 3 under Saturday. “I may have a lot of catching to do (today), but I certainly wasn’t happy with the way I hit the ball (Friday, after shooting a 1-over 72). I actually tried not to look at the board, but I felt like I was missing it both ways and I was too active in my legs.”
Donald will tee off at 1:15 p.m. as part of the fourth-to-last pairing.
Two players, both in their 40s, turned in the best scores so far in this year’s tournament.
Both Australian John Senden and two-time champion at Innisbrook Retief Goosen of South Africa carded 7-under 64s early Saturday.
Goosen, who has won the U.S. Open twice (2001, ’04) as well as the ’03 and ’09 versions of this event, started the day at 3 over and teed off in the second pairing at 7:50 a.m. He finished the front nine with three straight birdies, then shot a 31 on the back nine, including a birdie on the 17th.
“This golf course doesn’t give you anything,” said the 45-year-old Goosen, whose last PGA Tour win came at Innisbrook in 2009. “It’s a tricky course.”
Senden, 42, vaulted up the leaderboard to a solo third place thanks to bogey-free golf and birdies on four of his first five holes, as well as birdieing the 18th by draining a 32-foot putt.
“You’ve got to do everything well on this golf course,” said Senden, whose last PGA Tour win came at the 2006 John Deere Classic. “I had a lot of good chances to hole putts, and I was just trying to be free, trying to putt like I do on the practice green and, you know, I took it straight to the golf course today.”
Senden, who played his way into the second-to-last pairing today, also has the notoriety of being the player in the Valspar field who has made the most money ($930,899) at Innisbrook, but never won the tournament.
Shots (and hole) of the day
The 17th hole on Copperhead is not only known for being the heart of The Snake Pit, but also for having a raucous crowd thanks to the Owl’s Nest, the grandstand sponsored by Hooters. Despite that, the pairing of James Driscoll and James Hahn put in consecutive, and impressive, birdies to get a roaring ovation from the rowdy spectators.
First, Hahn (even) hit his tee shot to 7 feet, but Driscoll (2 under) found the back left-hand bunker, leaving him with 45 feet to the pin. However, Driscoll blasted out and roll in a birdie, then Hahn drained the putt, and both golfers tipped their caps to the fans.
Scott Langley, a 24-year-old left-handed pro in his fourth season, is known for making the cut at the 2010 U.S. Open as an amateur. However, Langley was also one of two golfers to shoot a field-low 31 on the back nine at Copperhead.
Langley made his turn at even par, then birdied holes 10, 13, 14 and 17, the latter after knocking his tee shot 4 feet from the hole.
“That was probably my best swing of the day, for sure,” Langley said. “As soon as I hit it, I just felt like it was going to be real good, so I just started walking after it.”
This is Langley’s second appearance at this tournament after finishing tied for 30th in 2013.
Defending Valspar champion Kevin Streelman and two-time champion K.J. Choi are even (213) through three rounds. … 2010 champion Jim Furyk is 2 under (211). … There was a 54-hole cut following Saturday’s round, and eight players got the ax, including Boo Weekley (9 over), Brian Gay (6 over) and Ken Duke (8 over). … The winner of the tournament gets $1.026 million, which marks the first payday of more than $1 million in the tourney’s 14 years.