Recent history suggests that pursuers may have real advantage

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If the trend of come-from-behind winners continues, Keegan Bradley may not be looking up at Bubba Watson on the leaderboard by Sunday's end.
March 10, 2012
Larry Dorman, PGATOUR.COM

DORAL, Fla. -- The percentages say Bubba Watson's three-stroke lead over Keegan Bradley and Justin Rose going into the final round of the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship is only a bit safer than moonlight surfing in shark-infested waters.

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It may just be a statistical blip from a small sampling or it might be the early days of a trend, but if six of the nine previous stroke play events on the PGA TOUR this year are any measure then Watson's pursuers are licking their chops. Only three 54-hole leaders have closed the deal this year, and four of the other six TOUR winners have come from six or more strokes off the pace.

It all started at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, when Brandt Snedeker came from seven strokes back to win in sudden death over Kyle Stanley, who had triple-bogeyed the 72nd hole. The following week in one of the great bounce-backs in recent TOUR history, Stanley came from eight strokes behind to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

At the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am the following week, Phil Mickelson made up six strokes on Sunday. And two weeks ago, John Huh was seven strokes behind at the start of the final round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic and closed with 63 to won in an eight-hole playoff over Robert Allenby.

All of this recent history could have something to do with why Rose was quite upbeat about his Sunday prospects, even after he three-putted the final hole Saturday for a 69 that dropped him into a tie for second with Bradley.

"For the most part, I'm in good position for tomorrow," Rose said.

Rose, was not suggesting that it will be easy to overhaul Watson, with whom he was paired for the first three rounds. Nor was Bradley, whose round of 66 vaulted him into the final pairing, head-to-head with Watson in what should be quite an entertaining game of two very long hitters with different attitudes about everything from swing coaches to TPC Blue Monster and how to play it.

Watson, 33, has never had a swing coach and says he never will. Bradley's swing coach is Jim McLean, whose school is on the north end of the driving range at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa and who schooled Bradley, 25, on which of the hole placements to attack and which to avoid on Saturday.

The reality of life near the top of the leaderboard, as Rose pointed out, is "there's only one guy at 17-under and the rest of the pack is right there. So it doesn't take much. If he has an average day, it's there for the taking."

Not that anyone really knows what an average day is for Watson. He warmed up impassively for his third round within earshot of all the noise Rory McIlroy was making during a blistering run of 9-under through 12 holes to get to 11-under par for the tournament -- one behind Watson who had yet to play a hole.

But McIlroy cooled off with bogeys at the 14th and 16th holes, finished with a 65 and in a tie for eighth at 9-under. He will need something on the order of a 62, like the one Watson shot on Friday, and some help from Watson on Sunday, if he is to win here.

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Tiger Woods also mounted an early charge that thrilled the large crowds at TPC Blue Monster when he birdied the first three holes and the sixth to reach 9-under. But Woods played the par-5s in even par in his round of 68, and is in the group at 9-under, which includes McIlroy, Luke Donald, Martin Kaymer, Charl Schwartzel and Webb Simpson.

When he gets it going the way he has this week, bombing all variety of shot shapes off the tee, and cashing in on his massive drives (319-yard average) with pitch shots to kick-in birdie length on three of his six Saturday birdies, Watson can be tough to stop. He is an underrated putter, as is Bradley, and Rose might be the best iron player among the three.

Watson, though, is the most creative shotmaker, and at the very hole he likes the least, on a golf course about which he is lukewarm about at best, he demonstrated just what he is capable of pulling off at the end of day.

He bisected the fairway on the 460-yard hole with a drive of 301 yards. He then gripped down on a 7-iron and knocked down a low, boring 164-shot that was flighted like one of the 767s landing at the nearby Miami International Airport. It hit the green, skipped, braked and rolled left toward the hole, 11-feet from the flag.

He missed the birdie putt, but par is a very good score at the 18th, a hole Watson has called "too long" and "ridiculous" this week. It also is a hole he has played in 1-under so far. That is two strokes better than both Bradley and Rose, both of whom are 1-over at 18.

If it all comes down to the 18th, Watson will have the percentages on his side.

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