Aaron Wise endured a day to forget as Matt Jones claimed a three-shot lead after the third round of the Honda Classic at PGA National.
Wise doubled his overnight three-shot advantage when he birdied two of the first four holes, but strengthening winds made for brutal scoring conditions for the later starters over the Champion Course, and Jones was the only player among the last six pairings to break par on day three.
A one-under 69 was a commendable effort from Jones, who leads on 10 under par with Wise stumbling to a 75 to end a tough Saturday tied for second with JB Holmes, who had earlier jumped 14 places up the leaderboard when he completed a 67.
Shane Lowry battled hard to be one under for the day, and eight under for the tournament after 10 holes, but he would drop five shots coming in to slip seven shots off the pace.
Jones was a full six shots behind Wise when the Australian dropped shots at the fourth and sixth, but he dug deep and balanced the books with birdies at 11 and 14 before producing some clutch par saves down the stretch to remain at 10 under as his closest rivals all headed in the opposite direction.
“It was very windy,” said Jones, whose only PGA Tour win was almost seven years ago, when he beat Matt Kuchar in a playoff at the Shell Houston Open, although he has also won his home Australian Open twice in similar conditions. “It was tough from the get-go out there and I was happy to shoot one under.
“Playing it in those Australian Opens where I won two, it was also windy there, so I’m quite comfortable in the wind. Growing up in Australia, we’re used to the wind and hopefully we can just keep managing the game.
“We’ve got a long way to go, and there are a lot of holes out here that can get you, but if I keep managing my game, hopefully I’ll have a chance coming down the last nine.”
Wise’s early form gave little indication of what was to follow, rolling in birdie putts from 15-foot range at the second and fourth, but his challenge began to unravel at the sixth as he missed a 12-footer for par and also the return, three-putting for a double-bogey six to undo his flying start.
Being put on the clock for slow play clearly unsettled the 24-year-old, who also bogeyed the seventh and missed another short putt for par at the 10th before letting slip three further shots over the last four holes, including a six at the last when he pulled his drive way left and into the hazard.
“It was a rough day,” said Wise afterwards. “It started off solid, I was two under through a few holes and it was just playing really, really hard. The forecast was for 10 to 15mph and it was a lot more than that.
“So I honestly felt like I played well, the only thing I didn’t do well was manage the wind. I felt like all day I had putts that were breaking one way, but the wind was completely the other way and I couldn’t quite figure out how much the wind was affecting them.
“And then I felt like I hit it great with my irons and just not so good off the tee. I was playing from out of position a lot, so it added up to a big number, but luckily with how I played those first two days I’m still in it and still have a chance tomorrow.”
Holmes was watching the late drama unfold from the sanctuary of the clubhouse having signed for his five-birdie 67, while CT Pan took advantage of the friendlier early conditions to fire a bogey-free 65 and race to six under, improving his position on the leaderboard by a mere 38 places.
Pan shares fourth with Cameron Tringale and Sam Ryder, while a trio of major champions in Keegan Bradley (67), Zach Johnson (70) and Stewart Cink (70) are all inside the top 10 on five under par.
But Lowry must come from seven behind if he is to claim his first win since The Open at Royal Portrush, following a poor closing stretch which started when he found water at the 11th.
His five bogeys in eight holes included two misses from four feet, including on the final green as he trudged off to sign for a disappointing 74 – three under for the tournament.