CROMWELL—— The Rose runaway has turned into a race.
Justin Rose, who led by as many as six shots on Saturday, saw his lead fall to three after the third round of the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands.
His 2-under-par 68 put him at 16-under 194 and enabled the field to draw closer. His chief challenger was Ben Curtis, who surged on the back side with five birdies to shoot a 6-under 64.
"I guess the tale of the day really was I made nothing," said Rose, who entered the third round with a four-stroke advantage over Kevin Sutherland. "The longest putt I made was about 4 feet 10 [it was officially 4 feet, 9] for par on 17. So I was really happy to have a day like that on the greens and still shoot 68 and still maintain that lead."
Curtis, the 2003 British Open champion, moved up eight spots on the leaderboard with his round, which was culminated with a 43-foot birdie at 18.
Vaughn Taylor (67) is third at 11 under. Ricky Barnes (64), Scott McCarron (66), Brendon de Jonge (67), Corey Pavin (69), Matt Jones (68), Bubba Watson (67) and Bill Lunde (69) are tied for fourth at 10 under.
"You know if you shoot even-par you're going to go backwards," Curtis said. "And coming off last week [at the U.S. Open] where you shoot 3 or 4 over and you actually maybe moved up the leaderboard. This week it's the opposite. You got to go 3-4 under to do that."
Still, he couldn't overtake Rose, the winner of his last start, the Memorial.
After Charlie Wi birdied the first three holes on Saturday to move to 12 under, Rose, who parred the first four holes, led by three shots. But Wi (71) finished the day at 8 under.
Rose almost scored a hole-in-one on the 223-yard fifth. His shot rolled just over the left edge of the cup. He tapped in from 9 inches for birdie.
Rose birdied the sixth to move to 16 under. After parring seven and eight, he had a six-shot lead over Barnes, who was in the clubhouse.
Then Curtis charged with birdies at Nos. 10, 12-13, 15 and 18. The latter enabled him to get within two shots of Rose, who was six groups behind. Rose was 15 under through 14 after his bogey at 13.
Curtis' 64 matched Barnes, Retief Goosen and J.J. Henry for low round of the day.
"Got off to a slower start than maybe I wanted to," said Curtis, who was 1-under 34 on the front. "But I just stayed patient and tried to keep hitting the greens and tried to make the putts, and luckily the last nine holes they kind of started going in."
Rose's backside magic, though, evaporated Saturday. On Thursday he made birdies at Nos. 13-17. On Friday he birdied 11-15.
But on Saturday he only birdied 15. A bogey at 13 (his first of the tournament) after he had driven into the pond, caused him to shoot even-par 35 on the back.
"I didn't putt well," said Rose, who needed 30 putts. "But I didn't put a lot of pressure on my putting with the greens I missed. I didn't hole a very long footage of putts because my chipping was so good."
On 18 his drive landed in a fairway divot. After he hit his approach to 15 feet of the cup, there was concern on the Rose side. "There was word from a [CBS] cameraman that my ball may have moved as I took the club back," he said.
His caddie Mark Fulcher advised him not to sign his card after paring 18 until he had received a ruling. Tour officials ruled no infraction had occurred because the ball had not moved.
Rose, who was tied for the lead after the first round, looks to be the 11th player in tournament history and the first since Peter Jacobsen in 2003 to lead wire to wire.
Today he and Curtis will be in the final 1:50 p.m. pairing, just like in 2005 when Rose had a one-shot lead over Curtis. Neither Curtis nor Rose won that year when champion Brad Faxon fired a course-tying record 61.
Rose said a three-shot lead is no guarantee for victory, especially at TPC River Highlands.
"Rickie Fowler was [four] ahead of me at Memorial. It's not relatively comfortable," said Rose, whose final-round 66 overtook Fowler. "There's still golf to be played."