Nick Price dug his feet into the bunker left of the 14th green, his five-stroke lead in the PGA Championship cut to two, facing a sand shot to a slick, spike-marked green.
A bogey was likely and a one-time runaway by Price was turning into a shootout under the blistering 96-degree Oklahoma sun in Saturday's third round.Then, in a matter of moments, Price took control again, blasting brilliantly to 7 feet and rolling it in to save par while playing partner Corey Pavin was making a double bogey and Jay Haas, playing a hole ahead, was making triple bogey.
Just like that, Price was back in charge. And largely because of that - and a bold birdie on No. 17 - Price salvaged an even-par 70 and took a three-stroke lead over Haas and a four-stroke lead over Pavin and Phil Mickelson into today's final round.
"I didn't realize that Jay was making triple," Price said. "The main thing I was trying to do was to keep my lead. Corey was busy making double and so the save was very significant. But I think the most important thing on the back nine was making that birdie on 17," when he threw a wedge to 3 feet.
Price, a machine through the first two days, came a little unglued in the third round, but blasted from greenside bunkers time after time to finish at 8-under 202 for 54 holes.
"I persevered today," Price said as he failed to break 70 for the first time in his last seven rounds in a major championship.
"Hopefully, today is the one bad round I'm going to have all week."
After shooting 65 on Friday, Price said: "I haven't had my not-so-good round yet. If I can take the not-so-good round and turn it into a 69 or 70, I have a chance."
He now has a very good chance - and a three-stroke lead.
Haas, Pavin and Mickelson made runs at Price, but each was betrayed by the disastrous hole that Price avoided.
Pavin, who shot 69, made a double bogey on No. 14. Mickelson shot a 67 despite a double bogey at No. 12. And Haas, who had a 68, made a triple bogey at No. 15. For Haas - incredibly - it was his second triple bogey in two days.
"I certainly wasn't thinking about trying to guard against making 7," Haas said. "I thought I could get a little cute with the sand shot and it backfired against me."
He made 7 on the par-4 after hitting the back bunker, dumping his next shot into a swale short of the green, stubbing his chip to the fringe and three-putting.
"I was aware he wasn't running away with it," Haas said about Price. "He wasn't shooting another great round. Fortunately for the rest of us, we're still sort of on the same page with him."
Pavin and Mickelson were four strokes back at 4-under-par 206.
"He can definitely be caught tomorrow," Pavin said. "He's human like the rest of us."
Playing back into contention was Greg Norman, who shot a 67 to get to 3-under for the tournament, along with John Cook and Ben Crenshaw.
"I don't think Nicky's going to back off. He's going to be eight or nine under," Norman said. "I think I have to be ready to shoot 65 or 64 tomorrow."
U.S. Open champion Ernie Els of South Africa, Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, Tom Watson, Jeff Sluman and Loren Roberts were six strokes back at 208.
Price, who won the British Open last month and is trying to become the first man to win consecutive major championships since Watson won the U.S. and British Opens in 1982, held his round together beautifully.
"I had a couple of tough bunker shots and a couple of tough chips but I got them all down," he said. "I putted extremely well from 6 feet in today."
He had to. Price continually pulled his irons left and hit five greenside bunkers. But he came away from those five holes with four pars and a birdie - blasting from the sand and showing steely nerves on a succession of par putts in the 6-foot range.
Price started the day with 11 consecutive pars, running his streak to 38 holes without a bogey. But that ended on No. 12 when he missed the fairway right, missed the green left and chipped 30 feet past, two-putting for bogey.
He got that back immediately when he birdied the par-5 13th hole - getting up and down from a greenside trap, of course.
Then came the 14th, and the day was saved.
Mickelson made the first run at Price, shooting 31 on the front nine and getting to 5-under before he double bogeyed the 12th.
Pavin birdied three of the first seven holes and was two strokes behind Price at that point, but his disaster came on No. 14. He managed to save his day when he chipped in on No. 16 for a birdie and then again on 17 to save par after scuffing his first chip.
Haas had a bizarre back nine in which he made five birdies, a bogey, a triple bogey and only two pars.
The leaders after 3 rounds at the PGA Championship
Nick Price 67-65-70-202
Jay Haas 71-66-68-205
Phil Mickelson 68-71-67-206
Corey Pavin 70-67-69-206
John Cook 71-67-69-207
Ben Crenshaw 70-67-70-207
Greg Norman 71-69-67-207
Tom Watson 69-72-67-208
Loren Roberts 69-72-67-208
Jeff Sluman 70-72-66-208
Ernie Els 68-71-69-208
Jose Maria Olazabal 72-66-70-208