SAN DIEGO — Two poor chips wound up costing Harris English three shots. He battled just to get birdie chances on the South Course at Torrey Pines and only converted two of them. He wound up with a 1-over 73 and a share of the lead with J.B. Holmes on Saturday in the Farmers Insurance Open.
And he was pleased with his performance.
The previous three tournaments he played this year, a 73 would have sent English spiraling down the leaderboard. Not this week.
"It's hard to play Torrey Pines and not be a difficult day," English said. "I know 1-over par is never good on the PGA Tour, but today it keeps me in the tournament. I could have easily pressed a little bit and turned that 1 over into a 3 or 4 over. ... I'm coming off the day very pleased and looking forward to tomorrow."
Holmes birdied all but one of the par 5s and escaped with bogey on his one big miss in the third round. He had a 68 to match the low score of the round and join English on top of a very crowded leaderboard going into the final round.
A dozen players were separated by two shots, and all but three of those players have won on the PGA Tour. Two of them, Jimmy Walker and Bill Haas, have won in the last month. Considering this is the South Course at Torrey Pines, Sunday might be more about survival than shootout.
"This is a U.S. Open golf course," English said. "And you've got to treat it like that."
English led by as many as three shots early in the third round until his streak of 39 holes at par or better ended with a double bogey on No. 4 when his chip ran to the upper tier of the green. He lost the lead again late in his round with a poor chip on the 16th.
English and Holmes were at 9-under 207 with a host of contenders behind them.
The South Course hosted the 2008 U.S. Open — and gets another U.S. Open in six years — and while the setup isn't the same, it's not far off. The rough is so thick that when Jhonattan Vegas, two shots behind after a 73, missed the fairway by a few feet, he had to stoop over just to see his golf ball.
No one shot better than 68, and only six players broke 70.
"Guys are getting bunched," Walker said. "You've got par 5s that are tough, and a lot of them are unreachable."
Walker, playing for the first time since his nine-shot win in the Sony Open, had 261 yards to the hole on the par-5 18th with a slight breeze in his face. He decided at the last minute to go up one club with a 3-wood, choked up slightly and hit a cut. It wound up about 12 feet by the hole, and his eagle putt to share the lead touched the right side of the cup. He tapped in for a 70.
Holmes is on the A-list of power players, and while his length helped, his short game led to birdies. He got up-and-down from a bunker on No. 6, reached the greenside bunker in two shots on the 603-yard 13th hole and had to lay up on the 18th after driving into the rough. He holed a 12-footer for birdie.
He was tied for the lead until pulling his tee shot into a hazard left of the 17th fairway, and then putting the next shot into a bunker. But he got up-and-down to escape with bogey and had a share of the lead when English made his late bogey.
"This golf course is a big, ball-striking course," Holmes said. "So you've got to hit it in the fairway, you've got to hit some good shots and give yourself a chance for some birdies. ... The rough, it probably plays worse than it did at the U.S. Open when they had it here in 2008."
Lucas Glover holed a bunker shot for eagle on the last hole for a 70 and will be in the final group with Holmes and English, a close friend. No shot was more memorable for Chad Campbell than his hole-in-one on the picturesque third hole with a pitching wedge. He played well the other 17 holes for a 70 and is in the hunt for his first victory in more than seven years.
Others at 8-under 208 were Spencer Levin (70) and Nick Watney, who made all pars on the back nine for a 72.
English, a two-time winner on tour, figured anything under par on Sunday might be good enough to win.
"This is a lot different than say, the Humana Challenge a couple weeks ago, where if you have a stretch of six holes and then don't make a birdie you feel like you're getting lapped," English said. "Out here, you're just holding on. Make a birdie and you feel like you're picking up shots on the field, and that's the beauty about tomorrow."