TWO monster back nine birdie putts have handed Canada’s Adam Hadwin a four shot lead at the PGA Tour event in Florida as Australians Cameron Smith and Rod Pampling tumbled out of contention in the third round.
Both Australians were over par in round three, Smith signing for a 1-over 72 while Pampling limped to a 5-over 76.
Pampling began the day in a share of 20th and on track for a good week but a slow start Saturday put him behind the eight ball.
He dropped two shots in his first four holes and two more on the way to the turn to plummet down the standings though looked to have salvaged something from the round with back to back birdies at 11 and 12.
But the famous ‘Snake Pit’ finish at the Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course, which incorporates the 16th, 17th and 18th holes, got the better of Pampling as he bled three straight shots to finish and drop 34 places down the leaderboard.
ADAM HADWIN HOLES AN UNLIKELY BIRDIE PUTT SATURDAY AT INNISBROOK:
Pampling missed all three greens over the closing stretch and couldn’t recover at any of them, a disappointing result having made just one bogey in the previous two rounds.
Smith, too, was brought undone by the famed final trio dropping shots at both 16 and 17 on his way to a 1-over round.
Having made the turn 2-under Smith looked in good position to climb the leaderboard but quickly lost momentum on the way to the clubhouse with bogeys at the 11th and 12th holes.
A birdie at 14 got him back to red figures but like Pampling was unable to recover after missing two of the last three greens.
Smith dropped just three places down the leaderboard to T45 with one round to play.
As the only Australians to make the cut battled on day three Canada’s Hadwin distanced himself from the field with a superb round of golf.
The man who shot 59 at the Career Builder Challenge in January combined a hot putter on the back nine with some stellar iron play to open up a four shot cushion over American Patrick Cantlay.
Hadwin holed an unlikely birdie putt from 33 feet at the 13th then made that look short with a 55 foot effort at the 15th to stamp his authority on the tournament.
His nearest challenger, Cantlay, is playing the 2017 season on a medical extension.
The 24-year-old is one of the most promising golfers of his generation but after turning professional in 2012 was plagued by back problems that forced him to stop playing in May 2013.
But those issues paled in comparison to losing his caddie and best friend, Chris Roth, when the latter was killed in a hit and run accident in February last year.
Cantlay was walking just three metres behind his best mate when the accident happened and considered giving up the game in the months after.
However, he eventually made his return at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in January this year where he made the cut and finished T48, his play this week now putting him in ideal position for a top 10 finish in just his second start of the year.
First round leader Jim Herman is next best behind Cantlay after signing for a second consecutive even par 71 to be 9-under and outright third, Dominic Bozzelli outright fourth a shot further back.
RISING STAR JON RAHM TALKS ABOUT HIS GOLFING HERO: