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Watch a gator scare the living daylights out of NHL All-Star Erik Karlsson

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Watch a gator scare the living daylights out of NHL All-Star Erik Karlsson

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Rickie Fowler hopes to put Sunday demons to bed at Honda Classic

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Rickie Fowler hopes to put Sunday demons to bed at Honda Classic

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Honda: Fowler opens 4-shot lead

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Honda: Fowler opens 4-shot lead

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Despite 4-shot lead, Fowler not counting chickens

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – It’s all about closing now.

Rickie Fowler wanted to be in this position come Saturday night at the Honda Classic, to sleep on the lead and force himself to finish off what he started.

Fowler, 28, may have three PGA Tour titles to his credit, but he’s 0 for 4 trying to close out 54-hole leads on his home tour.

While Fowler couldn’t win Saturday, he looked like he was trying.

With birdies at two of the final three holes, Fowler put up a bogey-free 5-under-par 65 to give himself a four-shot cushion on England’s Tyrrell Hatton (66) and a six-shot lead on a pack of five players that includes two-time major championship winner Martin Kaymer (68).

“I definitely need to put myself in this position more often, which is just going to lead to me winning more often,” Fowler said. “I’m not going to be able to take a 36- or 54-hole lead every time and win, but the more times I put myself there, the more trophies I get to hold on Sunday.”

At 13 under, Fowler has already gone lower than any 54-hole leader since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

Fowler is looking for his first PGA Tour title in 18 months, since he won the Deutsche Bank Championship. He’s looking for his first title anywhere in 13 months, since he won the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Fowler finished up impressively Saturday, wiping away some memories of last year’s third-round troubles. Fowler opened last year’s Honda Classic with a pair of 66s, just as he did this year, but he couldn’t build on it a year ago. He stumbled to a 74 without making a birdie and ended up tying for sixth.

The Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

“I do have a lot of work to do tomorrow, but it’s nice to give myself a four-shot lead,” Fowler said. “That can obviously go away very quickly, too.”

The Bear Trap awaits.

After three days of relatively optimum scoring conditions, the winds are forecast to be up on Sunday. PGA Tour meteorologists are calling for winds between 15-20 mph with gusts up to 28 mph.

If that’s what Sunday delivers, the three holes that make up the Bear Trap (Nos. 15-17) will offer a steep challenge.

That’s why Fowler wanted to get as many shots ahead as he could.

“I wanted 10 or more,” Fowler said. “There’s a lot that can happen. Birdies happen in the Bear Trap, but other numbers do, as well.

“So there can be a big swing there, and I think the biggest goal there tomorrow is if I can hit all three greens in regulation. I think that’s definitely attainable.”

Fowler said his ball striking wasn’t as sharp Saturday, but he’s been in control the whole week. He went to a shorter driver setup this week, replacing his 44½-inch shaft with a 43½-inch shaft. It’s making him straighter but doesn’t seem to be costing him a lot of distance.

Fowler has hit 31 of 42 fairways this week.

At the 18th, he blasted a 340-yard drive. From there, Fowler carved a 7-iron to 20 feet and two-putted for birdie. It was a strong finish.

He makes his home in nearby Jupiter and would relish winning here.

While Fowler’s terrific finish winning The Players two years ago didn’t count as “closing” because he didn’t lead going into the final round, he holds on to those memories. He played the final six holes at TPC Sawgrass in 6 under that year and then won in a playoff.

“I definitely look back on that,” Fowler said.

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Saturday's final group makes a mess of back nine

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Saturday was not a good day to be in the anchor pairing at the Honda Classic.

Wesley Bryan and Ryan Palmer shared the 36-hole lead, but after a tumultuous trip around the Champion Course both found themselves well behind leader Rickie Fowler.

Palmer made only one birdie en route to a 3-over 73, a score that dropped him into a tie for eighth at 6 under. Bryan was able to do only one better, posting a 2-over to move into a tie for third.

The rookie now trails Fowler by six shots and offered a candid assessment of where things so often go wrong at this particular course.

“Don’t hit it in the water,” Bryan said. “Did that two holes in a row, and you see where it left me.”

The two holes in question were Nos. 14 and 15, where Bryan went bogey-double bogey to fall off the pace. Despite the errors, he was able to find positives in his performance and focused largely on birdie putts that dropped the first two rounds but didn’t find the target in Round 3.

“Really there wasn’t much different going on,” he said. “The 2 over could have been 2 or 3 under really easily. It’s not like I played bad, I just didn’t capitalize.”

Bryan entered off a T-4 finish last week at the Genesis Open, and another high finish could go a long way toward securing his card for the 2017-18 season. While that may serve as a nice perk, Bryan remains focused on the task of chasing down Fowler and potentially nabbing his first career Tour victory.

“Right now it’s just trying to catch Rickie,” he said. “I watched him play from behind all day, and it looked like he was hitting it well. It’s going to be a tall task, but that’s the first and foremost goal.”

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Hatton in position to win in Honda debut

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tyrrell Hatton admits that he came into this week with few expectations.

The Englishman is a non-member on the PGA Tour, playing this week on a sponsor invite and making his first U.S. start since the Wyndham Championship in August. Prior to his arrival at the Honda Classic, Hatton hadn’t set foot in Florida since playing the mini-tour circuit in 2012.

But he has required little prior experience to tame the Champion Course, shooting three straight sub-par rounds to sit alone in second place, four shots behind Rickie Fowler heading into the final round.

“At the start of this week, I didn’t feel very comfortable with my game,” he said. “If you’ve seen me hit balls on the range this week, you probably wouldn’t believe where I am in the tournament. I don’t really enjoy the range too much. I’d much rather play.”

While Hatton has only won once on the European Tour, he entered the week as one of the highest-ranked players in the field at No. 18. He’s gotten better with each round so far, culminating with a 4-under 66 in the third round – results that have come despite his unfamiliarity with chipping out of thick Bermuda rough.

“Just frustrates me a little bit. I find it really inconsistent,” he said. “Sometimes it will come out and go like 3 feet in front of you, and you haven’t sort of made a bad swing. The next one, you do exactly the same and it will come out hot and goes like 15 feet past the hole.”

Hatton’s best prior finish on Tour came last summer, when he tied for sixth at the Open Championship. That also marked his last rendezvous with Fowler, as the two played together during the third round at Royal Troon.

They’ll tee it up together again in Sunday’s final pairing, where Hatton will hope to erase a hefty deficit and become the first to win his Honda Classic debut since Padraig Harrington in 2005.

“I’m just going to go out there tomorrow and play as well as I can,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. I can only control what I do and just have to see how it goes.”

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You Oughta Know: National treasure

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – With three rounds in the books at the Honda Classic, the tournament has seemingly turned into a one-man race. Here’s what You Oughta Know heading into the final round at PGA National, where Rickie Fowler hopes to close out his first worldwide win in more than a year:

• Fowler held a 36-hole lead here last year but faded with a third-round 74. This time around he shot a bogey-free 65 to turn a one-shot deficit into a four-shot lead over Tyrrell Hatton.

• Fowler has not won since the 2016 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and his last PGA Tour victory came at the 2015 Deutsche Bank Championship.

• Fowler’s recent record with the lead is less than stellar. He is 0-for-4 in previous attempts to convert a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, most recently at The Barclays in August where he finished T-7 behind Patrick Reed.

• This is the third straight week that a player has taken at least a four-shot lead into the final round on Tour. Two weeks ago Jordan Spieth led at Pebble by six and won by four, while last week Dustin Johnson maintained a five-shot advantage at Riviera.

• PGA National has been kind to leaders. Since the Honda moved here in 2007, seven of 10 winners held at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

• Hatton is a non-member on the PGA Tour and is playing this week as a sponsor invite. His best prior finish came last year at The Open, where he tied for sixth.

• Like Hatton, Martin Kaymer is playing this week on a sponsor invite. The German is T-3 at 7 under, six behind Fowler, and in search of his first worldwide win since the 2014 U.S. Open.

• Wesley Bryan held a share of the 36-hole lead but fell back to T-3 after a third-round 72. Bryan won three times last year on the Web.com Tour and is in search of his second top-5 finish in as many weeks (T-4 Genesis Open).

• Sean O’Hair surged into a tie for third with a Saturday 65 and trails Fowler by six. Should he pull off the comeback, it would be his first Tour win since the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

• Charles Howell III’s travel plans may hinge on Gary Woodland. Howell is ninth in the FedEx Cup and will book a trip to the WGC-Mexico Championship if he remains inside the top 10 Sunday, but he’s currently projected to drop behind both Fowler and Woodland, who is T-3.

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Two key changes to thank for Fowler's improved play

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Two keys off the tee have contributed to Rickie Fowler’s recent resurgence: shorten the club and start aiming left.

Fowler has taken a page from his friend and fellow Butch Harmon disciple Jimmy Walker, who debuted a shorter driver to start the year in Maui. Fowler’s model in play at this week’s Honda Classic is 43 ½ inches, a full inch shorter than his usual model.

Fowler began tinkering with new drivers prior to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he finished T-4. He kept it in the bag this week at PGA National and now will take a four-shot lead over Tyrrell Hatton into the final round.

“An inch shorter doesn’t sound like a lot shorter, but anyone in golf, you know that an inch is a lot,” Fowler said. “I don’t know if it’s perfect. I don’t know if it’s the last driver I’m going to play or we’re going to do some more testing and see where we can go with it, but it’s definitely been nice this week.”

The other aspect that has changed off the tee for Fowler has been his ball flight. After predominantly hitting a fade during the 2014 season where he contended at all four majors, he began to incorporate a draw last year in order to correct an issue he saw with his swing plane. Now he’s back to shaping the ball left-to-right, and the comfort level is reminiscent to the one he enjoyed three years ago.

“That’s golf. You’re always kind of trying to go back and forth and just be in that happy medium spot,” he said. “We’re definitely in a good position right now.”

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Fowler (65) takes 4-shot Honda lead

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The conditions were a little tougher during the third round of the Honda Classic, where one man pulled well clear of the field. Here’s how things look heading into the finale at PGA National, as Rickie Fowler has built a four-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Rickie Fowler (-13), Tyrrell Hatton (-9), Emiliano Grillo (-7), Wesley Bryan (-7), Martin Kaymer (-7), Sean O’Hair (-7), Gary Woodland (-7)

What it means: Fowler held the 36-hole lead at this event last year but faltered in Round 3. He was eager to flip the script this time around, turning a one-shot deficit into a two-shot lead as he made the turn. Fowler added to his margin from there and now sits on the cusp of his first worldwide win in over a year.

Round of the day: Brandon Hagy made the cut on the number and played in the first twosome of the day, but after a sizzling 64 he moved all the way into the top 10. Hagy finished strong, with birdies on four of his final seven holes to equal the low score of the week and move up 47 spots on the leaderboard.

Best of the rest: Fowler was flawless while playing in the penultimate group, one of three players to make it around the Champion Course without dropping a shot. He made three front-nine birdies to take sole possession of the lead, then capped things with an easy two-putt birdie on the last hole.

Biggest disappointment: It was a rough day for the co-leaders. Ryan Palmer now trails Fowler by seven shots after a 73 that featured only one birdie, while Bryan’s roller-coaster 72 included a watery double bogey on No. 15 that dropped him six shots off the pace.

Main storyline heading into Sunday: He’s been in this position before, but this is clearly Fowler’s tournament to lose. A four-shot lead gives him some wiggle room as winds are expected to blow, but this is as good an opportunity as Fowler can ask for to get his first PGA Tour win since 2015 at a de facto home game.

Shot of the day: Fowler was already well in front before he came to the par-5 18th, where he followed a 339-yard bomb off the tee with a 190-yard approach that found the green and settled within 20 feet of the hole to set up an easy birdie.


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Fore Things: Fowler's time to close 54-hole lead?

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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Some higher winds are forecast to blow into the Honda Classic Sunday, with gusts from 24 to 28 mph possible. We’ve seen how that can spell calamity at PGA National. Here are Fore Things that were noteworthy from the third round:

1. It’s Rickie Fowler’s tournament to close. Though Fowler has won three PGA Tour titles, he’s 0-for-4 trying to close out a 54-hole lead or share of the lead on Tour. He’s 1-for-5 worldwide. That remarkable finish at The Players two years ago, when Fowler showed some fierce finishing skills coming home to win, didn’t technically count as closing out, but it felt like it should.

2. Even if Fowler doesn’t prevail, the run of 20-something winners is still in play. Tyrell Hatton, 25, is second, three shots back and Emiliano Grillo, 24, is tied for third, six shots back. Players in their 20s have won 10 of the 14 PGA Tour events staged this year.

3. Hatton looks like he wants to be a household name in the states. The 25-year-old Englishman has very quietly climbed to No. 18 in the Official World Golf Ranking and is starting a run of U.S. PGA Tour events to get ready for the Masters. He won the Alfred Dunhill Links last year and made his presence felt in the majors, recording a pair of top 10s at The Open and PGA Championship. 

4. Sean O’Hair may be quietly building up to something special. With a 65 Saturday, O’Hair moved into a tie for third, six shots back. The four-time PGA Tour winner is looking for his first victory in six years. He opened this year with a tie for 11th at the Sony Open and a tie for ninth at the Career Builder Challenge. 

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