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The Barclays: Rickie Fowler seizes lead with 68 on Saturday at Bethpage Black

Rickie Fowler tees off at the 17th hole

Rickie Fowler tees off at the 17th hole during Round 3 of The Barclays at the Bethpage Black golf course on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

The PGA Tour playoff opener is called The Barclays, but it’s starting to resemble a U.S. Open like the ones held at Bethpage Black in 2002 and 2009. Australian Adam Scott caught fire early in the third round on Saturday to shoot 65, falling one stroke short of the course record, and Rickie Fowler came down the stretch late with a bogey-free 68 to seize the 54-hole lead at 9-under-par 204, one ahead of Patrick Reed and two in front of Scott.

Despite spongy greens early in the week, the Black Course has grown progressively tougher and its backbreaking length of 7,468 yards has kept anyone from running away with it. World No. 1 Jason Day shot a 1 under 70 and is in the group at 5 under, while No. 2 Dustin Johnson shot 67 to get to 4 under and No. 3 Jordan Speith birdied the last to salvage a 72 and finish at 3 under.

It sets up a promising final round that will compare to any major championship. “It’s definitely a true test of golf out here,” said Fowler, who has made just one bogey in 54 holes. “It’s a major venue, and it’s one of the biggest we play at. You can’t fake it around here. You’re going to have to pull off some magic here and there to save some pars like I’ve been able to, and then, you’re also going to have to ball-strike your way around here.

“With everyone basically being in single digits, this is a real test, and yeah, pars a lot of times are good.”

At the same time, Fowler couldn’t rule out the possibility of someone going low in the final round after what Scott did on Saturday. The former Masters champion won twice in the spring and stands No. 7 in the world, but he has struggled to find a comfort level on the greens since anchored putting was banned this year.

Scott said he decided on the 15th hole of the second round to flush all the technical thoughts from his mind and rely on gut instinct. Presto, everything clicked. “If any thoughts creep in the head, nothing works very good in golf,” Scott said. “Once a few go in, it changes everything. Hopefully, I can keep the mind clear and free and the putts rolling (today).”

Scott didn’t have to use his putter at the par-4 first hole after hitting a 98-yard pitching wedge into the cup for eagle on his way to a 4 under par 32 on the front nine that made him feel he was “flying.” But it was his play on the brutal three-hole stretch from Nos. 10 through 12 that made his round truly special.

Scott’s approach on the 502-yard par-4 10th stopped two feet from the cup for a tap-in birdie. At the 435-yard par-4 11th, he made a 14-foot downhill putt that broke more than two feet to save par. Then he birdied the 501-yard par-4 12th with a 45-foot bomb. He made another 45-foot birdie at the 478-yard par-4 15th to reach 7 under par for the day.

That meant Scott needed three pars to tie the record of 64 set by Long Island pro Craig Thomas at the 2007 New York State Open. It was tied at the 2009 U.S. Open by winner Lucas Glover and Mike Weir, and Padraig Harrington shot it at the 2012 Barclays.

“This is how these rounds come about on tough courses,” Scott said. “You need some good stuff to happen and momentum going your way.”

A bogey at the par-4 16th ultimately cost Scott the record as he narrowly missed birdie putts on the final two holes. “No. 16 was disappointing to drop a shot when, if I somehow birdied one of the last three, it’s a new course record,” Scott said. “I was well aware of that. Around a golf course like this, it would have been very cool to have, but I’ve got another chance (today).”

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