BETHESDA, Md. – In a wildly unpredictable, unstable and uncertain tournament, it was perfectly fitting that a little-known player searching for his first career win closed out the AT&T National’s third round with a wildly unpredictable shot that was punctuated by a handshake-handslap that ranked about a 5 on the awkwardness scale.
After starting his round 3 over through three holes, after battling back with four birdies during the round, after rinsing his approach shot in the water guarding the 18th green, Roberto Castro holed an 80-foot pitch shot to save par and stay part of a four-way share of the lead entering the final round.
One year ago, storylines after this tournament’s third round were plentiful and obvious. Tiger Woods, the host with the most, was in contention while a derecho storm had rendered the course a ghost town, closed to most spectators for the day.
This year, Woods is on the shelf with a sore elbow and conditions – for one day, at least – were pristine, leaving an eclectic leaderboard devoid of superstars.
Of the quartet tied for the lead, the biggest name is that of Bill Haas, seeking a victory for the fourth consecutive season, a mark he would share with only Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose.
Even Haas doesn’t come without a measure of unpredictability, though, and on this day it came in the form of his scorecard. He went six holes before making his first par, carded a triple bogey on the 11th hole and made nine birdies to shoot one of the crazier 68s you’ll ever see.
“Could have been a 6-, 7-, 8-under day, but it also could have been a 4-, 5-, 6-over day if I hadn't putted well,” he said afterward. “I don't really know what to make of how I'm playing other than I've got to take the positives and doing some good things. Just got to hopefully do more good than bad tomorrow.”
At one point during the proceedings, it appeared Andres Romero was intent on pulling away from the pack, but his three-stroke lead disappeared in a hurry, with a double bogey-bogey swing on Nos. 11 and 12. He’ll be seeking his first victory since 2008 – and he’s the only player in the top seven other than Haas who has won before on the PGA Tour.
For the man they call Pigu, though, there’s even more at stake. Romero burst onto the scene at the 2007 Open Championship, when a final-round rally netted 10 birdies, but left him just shy of a playoff. He finished in the top 10 at two more majors the next year; since 2010, however, he’s competed in only two of 'em.
“I need to work very hard to get there,” he said through an interpreter. “Obviously it’s very important for a player to get into majors. I’m not feeling very well sitting at home watching majors on TV, but I’m working very hard to get there.”
James Driscoll is among those seeking a first career win. It’s been a long time coming, too. The 2000 U.S. Amateur runner-up has competed in 207 previous events without finding some hardware.
The 35-year-old Brookline, Mass., native could also be a silver lining in what’s been a dark cloud over Boston sports already this week.
“I’d like to be, that’s for sure,” he said after posting a third consecutive round in the 60s. “It’s been a tough week up there, but like any other time Boston bounces back pretty well. … The Bruins was a tough pill to swallow, especially the way Game 6 ended. As far as the Celtics, it’s tough to see [coach] Doc [Rivers] gone, too. There are a lot of things to get over up there, but we’ll get over it and move on.”
The fourth man in that unpredictable foursome atop the leaderboard is Castro, who was last seen celebrating that all-world par at the final hole.
“A bogey would have been fine,” he explained later, “but even a double … I would have still been right in there, I think.”
His words may show optimism, but his actions after the ball dropped into the hole were a mixture of excitement and relief, as he and caddie Rusty Stark repeatedly slapped hands in acknowledgment.
“We did OK, right?” Castro asked about the celebration. “It felt good to me.”
When told it ranked right about in the middle on the awkwardness scale, he turned to Stark and said, “We’ve got to tighten that up.”
The caddie in turn jokingly told anyone within earshot, “It’s our first time. Give us a break.”
And what a break it was. In what’s been a wildly unpredictable tournament so far, there could be a first time for something else in the winner’s circle come Sunday afternoon.