Justin Rose insists the WGC-Cadillac Championship is “there for the taking” despite Bubba Watson taking a three shot lead in Miami.
The Englishman caught the big-hitting left-hander at one stage, but could not keep pace with Watson and had to settle for a share of second with Keegan Bradley going into the final round.
“There’s only one guy at 17 under and the rest of the pack is right there,” said Rose. “So it doesn't take much – if he has an average day, it’s there for the taking.”
During an exciting day over Doral’s TPC ‘Blue Monster’, Rory McIlroy had threatened to steal the show, but it is Rose and Bradley – with Sweden’s Peter Hanson two shots further back in fourth place – who are best placed to take on Watson.
Rose, with a chance to record his fourth victory in the States and to return to the Official World Golf Ranking’s top six four years after he was last there, remains Europe’s best hope.
The 31 year old three-putted the last for a 69, after having four consecutive birdies around the turn.
But the Ryder Cup star was delighted to remain in contention, saying: “This is a huge stage to play golf on, and it was fun out there today. People get excited, and World Golf Championships are right up there with the best tournaments in the world.
“You just have to keep playing, keep your head down. I’m three behind, but I think it’s important to not go out and force the issue and take on shots that don’t make sense. You just have to go out and play the shot at hand, and wait for that putter to heat up.”
Hanson added a 69 to reach 12 under par, and as a result will have five shots to make up in the final round.
He said: “I think that I have to drive the ball better tomorrow. I have to find more fairways and give myself a few more chances. I think three under today was a good score for me, because like I said, if you find the fairways here, you can be very aggressive into some of these pins; but if you’re in that rough, which I was sometimes today, you’re happy to get it within 25 to 30 feet. So I need to find more fairways, be aggressive and try to make a bunch of putts. Hopefully I can put myself into contention tomorrow.”
Watson, currently the World Number 23, started eagle-birdie and after three-putting the fourth he birdied three of the next four to lead Rose by five shots at that point.
The former European Tour Number One followed Watson in for a birdie four at the long eighth, however, and with birdies on the next three holes – combined with Watson three-putting again on the ninth – they were level.
That was as good as it got for Rose, however, as Watson posted further birdies at the 12th and 14th holes, while the Englishman bogeyed in between.
Earlier in the day, new World Number One McIlroy gave another demonstration of his enormous talent, charging from 28th place to second – and only one shot behind – by playing the first 12 holes in a staggering nine under par.
But after an eagle and seven birdies, McIlroy then bogeyed the 14th and 16th holes, and instead of challenging or even beating the Doral course record of 61 the 22 year, eventually signed for a round of 65.
McIlroy said: “You should not be disappointed with a 65, but I feel it could have been a little better. I got off to a great start and was just trying to keep it going, but got a pretty bad lie in the bunker on the 14th and in the rough at the 16th, which was disappointing. But I still played much better.
“Yesterday I was ranked last in putting, but I holed them today and I will need to do the same again tomorrow. I need to get off to another fast start and maybe keep it going a bit better. I will have to shoot in the low 60s, but it’s possible out there.”
Matching McIlroy at nine under par and in a tie for eighth place heading into Sunday’s final round is the man he deposed as World Number One just a week ago, Luke Donald, after the Englishman shot a three under par 69 to also sit alongside Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel and 2010 US PGA Champion Martin Kaymer after their respective rounds of 70.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell climbed into a tie for 18th place at seven under par after an excellent round of 67 on Saturday, while Thomas Björn and Lee Westwood are two shots further back with one round to play.