Rickie Fowler will take a one-shot lead into the final day of the Zozo Championship in Japan.
Fowler has not won a tournament since the 2019 Phoenix Open but he rattled off five birdies and a bogey to score a 66 at Narashino Country Club on Saturday to move to 14 under, one shot ahead of fellow American Keegan Bradley.
Fowler, a three-time Major runner-up and former world No 4, said his self-belief had not wavered despite his poor form, which included missing the cut at last week’s Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas.
“I’ve definitely had some tough times the past few years,” said the 33-year-old, who has won five PGA Tour titles. “It was always just a fine line, a shot or two here or there, and it’s nice to start building momentum and confidence and getting the ball rolling in the right direction.”
Fowler looked to be in danger of losing his lead when he drove his tee shot into the bunker on the 18th. But he played his way out of trouble and birdied the hole, saying he was “looking forward to the challenge” of going for the title in Sunday’s final round.
“I believe I can do it but I know it’s going to be tough,” he said. “I just have to keep doing what I’ve been doing the past few days.”
Bradley hit five birdies and a bogey to sit one shot behind Fowler, with Andrew Putnam one further back on 12 under and Norway’s Viktor Hovland on 11 under.
Home favourite Hideki Matsuyama admitted his chances of defending his title had all but vanished after his round of 66 left him 10 shots off the lead.
Matsuyama gave the thousands of fans following him around the course something to cheer about when he hit back-to-back birdies midway through his round in Chiba, near Tokyo.
But his overall tally of five birdies and one bogey left him in a tie for 31st place, and he said he would need a miracle to defend his title.
“I think my score would have to be in the 50s tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t think I have much of a chance but I want to do my best.”
South Africa’s Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Dylan Frittelli are both on three under (T35) after third rounds of 66 and 68, respectively.
Hovland put himself right in contention after making a 45-foot eagle putt on the final hole.
“It felt like the round was going downhill a little bit,” said the world No 11. “But after a nice birdie on 15 it kind of revived it a little bit and obviously with the eagle on the last, that’s a nice way to end it.”
The round of the day came from American Sahith Theegala, who shot seven birdies on the front nine before coming home in 63.
“I played really well on that front nine,” said the 24-year-old, who is nine under overall. “I actually made a six-footer for par on the first par five and that’s a hole that a ton of people are going to have birdie looks at.
“So, if I’m being really picky I guess I could have got one more there.”
© Agence France-Presse