SONOMA, Calif. – Sitting out most of last season while recovering from surgery on his right shoulder taught Denis Watson to appreciate the little things.
Even after struggling through the third round Saturday at the Champion Tour’s season-ending Charles Schwab Championship, he isn’t complaining.
Watson shot a 4-under 68 to take a one-stroke lead over defending champion Jim Thorpe and Brad Bryant into the final round at the Sonoma Golf Club.
“This is great. I haven’t been in it for a while, I’ve been kind of fighting it a little bit,” said Watson, who has sporadically struggled with his game ever since winning the Boeing Classic in late August. “It’s what you live for. You gotta love it.”
Watson, who also won the Senior PGA Championship in May, had five birdies but fought his game all day. He trailed by two strokes after 13 holes and went into No. 18 a shot behind Thorpe, the 2003 and 2006 winner. But Thorpe made a double bogey on the 412-yard, par-4 final hole to finish with a 69.
Watson had a 15-under 201 total.
“I really scrapped it out,” said Watson, from Zimbabwe. “I was kind of fighting with my swing a little bit until the back nine.”
Thorpe had been in command most of the afternoon after cutting a half inch off his driver following Friday’s second round. He played bogey free through the first 17 holes Saturday and was seemingly in good shape before falling apart on No. 18.
Thorpe pulled his tee shot into the rough then opted to lay up with his second shot rather than going for the green in two. His third shot landed 10 feet away from the pin but spun backward and rolled off the green onto the fringe. A chip and two putts later, Thorpe’s lead was gone.
“If I had taken another look at that pin I wouldn’t have laid it up,” said Thorpe, who threw his ball away in disgust after walking off the 18th green. “It was kind of cool and I wasn’t quite sure if I could carry the bunkers if I didn’t hit it perfect.”
Bryant, one of four players in contention for the Charles Schwab Cup race for a $1 million annuity, matched his best round of the tournament, a 67 to close the gap behind Watson. Bryant, who trails Loren Roberts in the Cup race by 697 points, can become just the second player to win both the season-finale and the Cup championship in the same season and needs to win on Sunday to have a chance.
“I’ve got more to play for than anybody in the world tomorrow,” Bryant said. “At this point, the best possible thing that could happen to me is to go out there tomorrow and just not think about anything. So hopefully we will not be worried about scenarios or anything else, just try to go play.”
Bryant will need some help in his quest for the Cup.
After struggling through the first two rounds and beginning Saturday with three bogeys in four holes to fall to 1 under, Roberts rebounded on the back nine with five birdies for a 69. At 6-under 210, Roberts was tied for 18th place.
“I was able to get up to where I at least can see some daylight now,” said Roberts after carding his best round of the tournament. “I just hope I can play tomorrow as I did on the back nine today. That’s my only defense.”
Jay Haas, 165 points behind Roberts, shot a 71 to reach 7 under. Tom Watson, the fourth player in contention for the Cup, was tied for 25th at 1 under.
Scores with relation to par from the thirdround of the Charles Schwab Cup Championship, played Oct. 27 at thepar-72, 7,012-yard Sonoma Golf Club in Sonoma, Calif.:
1. Denis Watson 69-64-68–201
-15 2. Brad Bryant 68-67-67–202
-14 2. Jim Thorpe 64-69-69–202
-14 4. Eduardo Romero 64-68-71–203
-13 5. Mark McNulty 74-66-65–205
-11 5. Fred Funk 70-69-66–205
-11 5. Mark James 66-70-69–205
-11 8. Bobby Wadkins 69-68-69–206
-10 8. Joe Ozaki 70-65-71–206
-10 10. D.A. Weibring 67-72-68–207
-9 10. Ben Crenshaw 71-68-68–207
-9 10. Keith Fergus 69-68-70–207
-9 10. Tom Purtzer 68-67-72–207
-9 14. Hale Irwin 70-73-66–209
-7 14. Scott Simpson 70-69-70–209
-7 14. Jay Haas 68-70-71–209
-7 14. Tom Kite 71-67-71–209
-7 18. Scott Hoch 70-72-68–210
-6 18. Loren Roberts 71-70-69–210
-6 20. Gil Morgan 71-70-70–211
-5 20. David Edwards 72-69-70–211
-5 22. R.W. Eaks 73-68-71–212
-4 23. David Eger 72-73-69–214
-2 23. Dana Quigley 76-70-68–214
-2 25. Tom Watson 74-71-70–215
-1 25. Des Smyth 74-69-72–215
-1 25. Andy Bean 70-70-75–215
-1 28. Bob Gilder 76-72-68–216
E 29. Lonnie Nielsen 77-68-77–222