Published Saturday, March 15, 2014 | 4 p.m.
Updated Saturday, March 15, 2014 | 6:04 p.m.
PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Robert Garrigus missed two short par putts over the last seven holes Saturday, and just like that, his four-shot lead dwindled to one in the Valspar Championship.
That's about the only thing that went quickly.
On a gorgeous afternoon at Innisbrook, pace of play on the PGA Tour reared its ugly head again.
Garrigus had to settle for a 1-under 70 when he missed short par putts on the 12th and 18th holes, giving him a one-shot lead over Kevin Na, who labored and fidgeted his way around the Copperhead course to a 68.
The final group turned into a threesome for most of the back nine — Garrigus, Kevin Na and a rules official with his hand on a stopwatch. Even though they finished in just under four hours, they were as many as two holes behind the group ahead of them.
Both players were given a bad time — a first for Garrigus, but not for Na — and one more would have meant a one-shot penalty.
"I'm not used to being put on the clock," said Garrigus, one of the fastest players in golf. "That's the first time in nine years — actually the first time in 17 years as a professional — I've ever got a bad time on the golf course. I started laughing."
They were on the clock when Garrigus had a nasty lie in the rough on the side of the hill on the par-5 14th. He walked some 30 yards up to the green to study his shot, and by the time he walked back to hit it, he was went beyond his allotted 40 seconds.
Na was given a bad time on the par-3 13th hole when he was first to play.
"Over water, tough to judge the wind and corner pin is obviously brutal, and probably just took some extra time because it was probably a hard golf shot," Na said. "Unfortunately, I was past the time. I know how to play. I don't know what people were saying, but I don't feel like I should be criticized for my play today because I'm the first one to admit if I play slow. But I really didn't feel like I played slow today."
A traffic jam is likely for the final round.
Garrigus was at 8-under 205, and the final seven holes brought several players back into the mix — most of them needing a win to get into the Masters.
John Senden of Australia made a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to cap off a 64, moving up 32 spots on the leaderboard into third place, just two shots behind. Justin Rose, at No. 7 the highest-ranked player in the field, made bogey from a wild tee shot on the 18th for a 69 and was three shots behind.
Retief Goosen finished his bogey-free 64 some 2½ hours before the leaders began the third round. He made the cut on the number, and suddenly finds himself within four shots of the lead on a course where he has won before. Goosen was at 4-under 209, along with Scott Langley (69) and Charley Hoffman (67).
Luke Donald, a winner at Innisbrook two years ago, was in the group five shots behind.
Garrigus did plenty right. He hit two balls off the first tee, only to find his original tee shot had banged off a tree and back into play. He converted that into a birdie, made a 12-foot birdie on the next hole and stretched his lead to four shots with a nifty flop shot from the pine straw that set up a birdie on the par-5 fifth.
That was his last birdie.
Na remarkably has made only one bogey through 54 holes on a Copperhead course with plenty of bite. He turned a potential bogey into birdie when he chipped in from deep rough on the par-3 15th hole.
The pressure came more from the clock held by rules official Gary Young.
Na said he was discussing the line of his 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th with caddie Kenny Harms when he wanted one last look.
"I was about to back off. Kenny goes, 'You better go,'" Na said. "I kind of peaked out in the fairway and there's Gary on the cart with a little clock."
Even so, Na said he didn't feel a need to apologize.
Pat Perez, playing in the group ahead of them, hit a tee shot into the vegetation on the third hole. Taking a penalty drop would leave him in a palmetto bush, so he opted to go back to the tee. Perez was given a cart ride to the tee and back to his next ball in play, and then he was gone. Perez is one of the fastest players.
"They took off," Garrigus said. "When Pat is playing bad, he takes four seconds to hit a shot."
Na said Garrigus told him after the round that he would tell him if he were playing slow. He said other players have told him he has picked up the pace. He said he has improved "a ton" since The Players Championship in 2012, when he was changing his swing and had trouble taking the club back — or changing his mind at the top and purposely missing the ball so he could start over.
"It's not fair for me because I already have that stamp on me," Na said.
He would much rather me known as a guy with multiple wins on the PGA Tour, and he has a chance to get his second title on Sunday. So does Garrigus, whose only other win was at Disney in 2010.
At stake for both is a spot in the Masters. Of the seven players separated by four shots going into the final round, Rose is the only one eligible for the first major of the year.