Lowry, Skinns, Eckroat tied for lead entering final round of Cognizant Classic

Shane Lowry of Ireland reacts to his shot from the sixth tee during the first round of the Cognizant Classic golf tournament, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Shane Lowry of Ireland reacts to his shot from the sixth tee during the first round of the Cognizant Classic golf tournament, Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Shane Lowry nearly won at PGA National two years ago. The Irishman has given himself a big chance to get a victory there Sunday.

Lowry, David Skinns and Austin Eckroat were tied for the lead Saturday after third round of the Cognizant Classic. Lowry and Skinns had rounds of 66 to and Eckroat shot a 68. They were at 13-under 200.

Lowry is looking for his third victory on the PGA Tour. Skinns is trying for his first top-10 finish in 33 tour starts. Eckroat is seeking his first tour win in his 50th start.

“Even though the scoring is pretty good this year, I like playing tough golf,” said Lowry, who has shot in the 60s all three days. “I like when everything is on the line a lot out there. You’re standing there over a lot of shots on this golf course, a lot that mean a lot, as in one bad swing can lead to a big number. I feel like I just know how to play the golf course. I feel like I’ve figured it out.”

Jacob Bridgeman (65), Min Woo Lee (66), Martin Laird (66), Kevin Yu (70) and Victor Perez (70) were 10 under. Andrew Novak (70) and C.T. Pan (70) were another shot back.

This is the 18th time that the tournament — known as the Honda Classic until this year — has been contested at PGA National. And it’s proven to be hard to rally for a win there on Sunday: in the previous 17 tour events at PGA National, 11 eventual winners had at least a share of the lead after 54 holes and 16 were no worse than tied for second.

The exception was Sungjae Im, who was fifth entering the final round in 2020. And the only players to rally from more than one stroke back entering the final round to win the Honda at PGA National were Sepp Straka (five back in 2022 when he prevailed over Lowry), Im (three back in 2020), Padraig Harrington (three back in 2015) and Russell Henley (two back in 2014).

“I would say when the course gets tricky like that, in a sense you have maybe a little bit more freedom not being in the lead, not having to kind of protect anything,” Perez said. “So, maybe that does play to an advantage for the guys coming from behind. I don’t know what the stats are with 54-hole winners. At the end of the day, whoever is going to shoot the least amount of strokes is going to win.”

Lowry went to the 72nd hole at PGA National in 2022 tied with Straka for the lead. Straka, a group ahead, hit his drive 334 yards on the par-5 hole. And moments later, it began pouring — a storm out of nowhere, as tends to happen in South Florida.

Lowry had to tee off in the worst of the rain and win, and his drive was 90 yards behind Straka. He had no chance of reaching the green in two, laid up and watched Straka make birdie. Lowry had a long birdie putt, it missed and Straka got his first PGA Tour victory.

“It’s funny because I didn’t know Sepp at all at the time,” Lowry said. “I used to tell him at the Ryder Cup that I used to not like him after that tournament, and I’ve become really friendly with him now, and he’s a great guy, and I get on very well with him.

“I always say golf never owes you anything. I came up short that day. I’ve come up short before. I’ve been on the better end of things before. You just go out there and do your best and what will be.”

Twenty-five players are within five shots of the lead — with a 15-way tie for 11th at 8 under. Among the players in that logjam: Rickie Fowler (who shot a second consecutive 67 on Saturday) and second-round leader Bud Cauley (74). Rory McIlroy was in a group another shot back at 7 under.

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