Honda’s long Sunday ends with Casey, Poulter tied for lead

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – After a Sunday marathon created a logjam at the weather-plagued Honda Classic, it will take a Monday-morning sprint to produce a winner.

If that man is not Ian Poulter, the Englishman will surely bemoan consecutive tee shots toward the end of a Sunday doubleheader that spoiled what had been a nearly flawless day. Having shot a bogey-free 4-under 66 in his third round, Poulter went to the first tee for his afternoon fourth round at 9 under, leading Padriag Harrington and Patrick Reed by three.

By the time Poulter went splash, splash – spraying his tee shot wide right at the par-3 fifth and hooking his tee shot at the par-4 sixth – the complexion of things at PGA National had changed dramatically. By going double-bogey, bogey, Poulter had opened the door for a parade of challengers, from countryman Paul Casey to Patrick Reed to Phil Mickelson.

That Poulter and Casey will resume play Monday at 8 a.m. tied at 7 under – Casey on the 10th hole, Poulter on the eighth – and that seven others are within four of the lead is owed to a set of circumstances that no one could have seen coming. Not with the way Poulter’s first 22 holes of the day had gone.

“It’s been a long day,” Poulter said after he and his colleagues had spent most of Sunday trying to make up for a Saturday that got wiped out by torrential rain. “I told my son (Luke), that’s what happens when you forget to concentrate.”

What happens is, you go from being bogey-free for 25 holes (going back to Saturday) and from making just four bogeys in 58 holes to trying to hang on.

“Silly things happen. Tiring, and I made a couple of really bad swings on five and six. But that kind of angered me inside, enough to spark a little bit of energy to hit a good shot at seven,” he said.

Indeed, Poulter stuffed his tee shot on the 197-yard seventh to 3 feet to right the ship, just as darkness started to settle in. It came only minutes after Casey had birdied the par-4 ninth to run to the turn in 4-under 31, so the two of them were tied. Reed, who had birdied the fifth to also pull to 7-under, bogeyed the seventh to fall one back.

But if Reed seemed unruffled, it’s likely due to the calm confidence that has piled up inside, thanks to four wins in his first 75 starts.

“Just going to start fresh (Monday) and act like it’s just a tournament,” Reed said.

While Reed has become accustomed to winning, even at the tender age of 24, Casey, at 37, is rejuvenated and thrilled to be in contention for the second time in two weeks. Just last Sunday he lost in a playoff to James Hahn in the Northern Trust Open.

“I never like to look back,” Casey said. “But I feel like when I was playing some great golf in 2009, 2010, it feels like that kind of stuff.”

Having slogged through miserable weather to shoot 69-70, Casey was like everyone else – sick of the rain. “I was looking forward to just playing in some sunshine.”

His play responded warmly, too, as Casey closed out a 2-under 68 in his morning third round, then went birdie, birdie to start his afternoon golf. When he birdied the fourth and the ninth, the one-time World No. 3 (albeit a 2009 ranking) was in the thick of things once again.

A host of others consider themselves in the hunt, too, and nowhere does the picture strike such a startling contrast than with the five-player group at 4 under. It includes Mickelson, playing in his 511th PGA Tour tournament, and rookie Daniel Berger, playing in just his 12th.

Said Mickelson, 44, who will start his day over a 10-foot putt for par at No. 9: “It’s fun to feel the pressure and be in it.”

Said Berger, 21, who will step to the 12th tee Monday morning: “It’s going to be a little seven-hole match for myself, and just stay patient and give myself some birdie chances and not think about it too much.”

While Poulter vowed to put behind him thoughts of those swings at five and six, Irishman Padraig Harrington went to the range to wipe away much of the Sunday bad. He had started the day at 7 under, leading by one, but after he shot 1-over 71 in Round 3, he bogeyed the fourth and doubled the sixth to tumble to 3 under.

Though he’s only four back, Harrington does have eight names ahead of him and there are only 11 holes left.

As darkness fell, Harrington marched directly to the practice range. Yes, it had been a long day, but he was determined to make it a bit longer.

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