FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Rickie Fowler is playing so well that he can't stop looking behind instead of considering the opportunity that lies ahead at The Barclays.
His wedge to 5 feet for a birdie on the 18th hole Saturday not only gave him a 3-under 68 and a one-shot lead over Patrick Reed, it was his 45th consecutive hole without a bogey at Bethpage Black, one of the strongest golf courses of the year.
In three rounds, he has made only one bogey.
That was on the ninth hole Thursday, a 4-foot putt that spun hard around the cup back at him. And yes, it still gnaws at him.
"Unfortunately, that one bogey ... it was more than a 180-degree lipout," he said with a smile. "So it was basically like going 54 holes, no bogeys. Around this place, I'm happy about that. It's been very close to having the game be where it is right now."
The timing could not be better for Fowler.
He is in solid position to win for the first time on the PGA Tour in a year, and to play his way onto the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
This is the final tournament for Americans to earn one of the eight automatic spots for the Ryder Cup matches at Hazeltine at the end of next month. Fowler was at No. 12 going into the opening FedEx Cup event and needed at least a third-place finish to earn a spot.
"It's nice to finally see some putts go in," Fowler said. "With a few putts going in, it frees up the rest of your game. I've been swinging well for a long time, and I've been waiting for the putter to catch up."
Along with three birdies, he made a pair of 10-foot par putts and a 25-foot par putt in the third round.
Fowler was at 9-under 204, and his work was not done. Not even close.
Reed overcame three bogeys in a four-hole stretch on the front nine and was tied for the lead on the back nine until the final two holes. Reed missed a 5-foot birdie putt on the 17th, and his 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole almost missed weakly to the right. He still managed a 71.
Right behind was Adam Scott, who also saw his share of putts go in, especially a 45-foot birdie on the 15th hole. Scott started out his round by holing a lob wedge from 98 yards for an eagle, and his 65 was the lowest score of the tournament.
Scott, who hasn't seriously contended since his back-to-back victories in Florida five months ago, was two shots behind at 7-under 206.
Martin Laird (69) and Emiliano Grillo (71) were three shots back, while defending champion Jason Day (70) and Justin Thomas (66) were in the group four shots back.
Fowler won against a strong field in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year, and he lost a two-shot lead with two holes to play in the Phoenix Open. Since then, he hasn't been much of a factor has his ranking — in the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup — began to plunge.
Not wanting to take a chance on being among the four captain's picks, he has a chance Sunday to secure his spot for Hazeltine.
"It's pretty simple," Fowler said. "I've got to take care of business tomorrow. It's been awhile since I've been in this position. It's going to be tough tomorrow. We're on one of the — if not the — toughest golf courses we play all year. It's been a long time coming, and it's going to be fun."
Reed, dressed all in black on another scorching afternoon on Long Island, managed to escape with a bogey from a horrible lie right of the third green. He muffed a chip on the fifth hole and made bogey, then drove well right into a bunker and made another bogey on the sixth hole. He bounced back with a pair of birdies, and made all pars on the back nine. Considering the difficulty of the Black's back nine, that was more than enough to stay in the game.
Scott can relate to how Fowler is feeling with the putter. He had no complaints with how he played tee-to-green, but he was getting aggravated with his putting. One good round, finally, changed his outlook.
"The front nine is the gettable nine, and to turn in 4 under set up my round," Scott said. "I knew anything under par on the back, I would have a great round, and that was kind of my goal. I rolled a couple long ones in, and that felt good and kept the momentum going. Hopefully, something to build on for tomorrow and beyond."
Jordan Spieth scrambled his way out of the rough and the sand. Spieth didn't hit a fairway from the second hole until the 15th, yet he still played even par. But on the par-3 17th, he flubbed a chip and took double bogey, and a birdie on the final hole gave him a 72. He was six shots behind.