CROMWELL >> Charley Hoffman lost his chance at winning last year’s Travelers Championship on the 71st hole.
His tee shot on the difficult par-4 17th at the TPC of River Highlands found the pond that runs along the fairway and he finished second, missing out on his third PGA Tour win.
This year Hoffman is in a three-way tie for the lead heading into Sunday’s final round and he expects a different outcome.
“Obviously if I get on 17 tee (in the lead), I’d be lying to say I’m not going to think about that tee shot,” Hoffman said Saturday after his 4-under 66 tied him with Bubba Watson and Graham DeLaet at 10-under 200.
“But I’m a much more mature, better player than I was a year ago and don’t feel uncomfortable on that tee shot.”
Watson, who led by two shots when he began the third round and by four shots midway through it, made three bogeys in his last six holes to help create the logjam. DeLaet tied for the low round of the day with a 65.
Chris Stroud and Nick O’Hearn are one shot back of the leaders at 9 under, while Ken Duke’s 65 put him alone in sixth place.
Justin Rose, less than a week after his U.S. Open victory, is 7 under and in a tie for seventh after a second straight 68.
After shooting a 61 in the opening round, Hoffman struggled and shot 73 on Friday. He bounced back with a 66 Saturday that included five birdies.
“I got off to a pretty quick start and then birdied 10, thought I was going to get going again,” Hoffman said. “And then a little three-putt bogey on 12 sort of slowed things down.”
Watson made three birdies in his first six holes Saturday and was ahead by four shots after the third. But bogeys on Nos. 13, 15 and 17 brought the 2011 Masters champion back to the field.
Watson, who won the 2010 Travelers, is trying to become the seventh man to win the event at least twice. Arnold Palmer and Phil Mickelson have also done it.
“I hit some shots today that were really good, quality shots,” said Watson, who shot an even-par 70. “I got a couple bad breaks here and there, but that’s golf. At the end of the day I still have a chance on Sunday and that’s what we’re always looking for.”
DeLaet may be playing this week in New England but many of his thoughts are about his native Canada. The heavy rain and flooding in Alberta forced the PGA Tour Canada to cancel its event this week, just one of the many issues the area is facing.
The 2009 Canadian Tour player of the year has pledged to donate $1,000 for every birdie he makes this weekend and $2,500 for every eagle to help the relief efforts.
“It’s a pretty small part, what we’re doing, but anything helps,” said DeLaet, a native of Weyburn, Saskatchewan. “There’s a lot of help from everyone all across Canada.”
DeLaet first made it to 10 under after beginning his back nine with four straight birdies. A bogey at the difficult par-3 16th put a slight damper on his round, but DeLaet finished strong by delicately rolling in a downhill putt from the fringe on the 18th hole.
“I did play well pretty much all day. I had a lot of good birdie chances on the front nine, just couldn’t really seem to find the hole,” DeLaet said. “Julien (Trudeau), my caddie, just told me to stay patient.”
Watson began the day with a two-shot lead and immediately began to extend it. After saving par on the first hole with a sliding, 7-foot putt, Watson made birdie at No. 2 by hitting a wedge some 2 feet from the hole. He followed that by draining a 30-foot putt from the front edge on No. 3 for a second straight birdie.
Another birdie at the par-5 sixth gave Watson a four-shot lead and he seemed ready to lap the field. Watson also made relatively lengthy par-saving putts on Nos. 7 and 10.
The smallest cracks in Watson’s armor appeared at the par-5 13th, where his drive faded too far left and ended up in a fairway bunker.
He was still short of the green after three shots and eventually made bogey, his first of the day and first in his last 30 holes.
He made another bogey at the easiest hole at the TPC of River Highlands, the 296-yard, par-4 15th. His drive left him just 50 feet from the hole but his putt through the fringe didn’t make it up the steep hill in front of the green. A chip and two putts followed, moving Watson back to 11 under.
Watson’s final bogey came on the 17th and was the result of a tee shot pushed left into a fairway bunker.
The lack of rain recently combined with an increase in the wind late Saturday made TPC of River Highlands, one of the shortest courses on tour, increasingly difficult for the players.
“I think we’ve never seen the golf course like this, as firm as it is and as firm as some of the greens are,” Watson said. “It’s hard to get to certain points, so a lot of people probably played it safe.”