Jim Furyk hits his tee shot on the sixth hole during the third round of the Transitions golf tournament, Saturday, March 17, 2012, in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Retief Goosen felt so much pain in his lower back that he decided to pull out of next week's tournament and get treatment. One day later, he found himself atop the leaderboard in the Transitions Championship.
Goosen ran off three straight birdies late in his round Saturday for a 6-under 65, giving him a share of the lead with Jim Furyk with more than just another PGA Tour victory at stake.
Today is Goosen's last chance to qualify for the Masters.
Furyk, coming off his worst season since he was a rookie, hit a 6-iron to 3 feet for birdie on the par-3 15th hole and had the lead to himself until a three-putt bogey up a steep slope on the 18th. He had a 66.
The two past champions at Innisbrook were at 11-under 202, with plenty of others behind them.
Goosen started the third round five shots behind Jason Dufner, who had a 70. Going into the final round, there were 26 players within five shots of the lead on a Copperhead course that allows birdies early, and demands close to perfection down the stretch.
Sang-moon Bae found that out the hard way.
Bae, a rookie from South Korea who reached the quarterfinals of the Match Play Championship until losing to Rory McIlroy, had the lead to himself for most of the back nine until Furyk caught him at the 15th.
On the next hole, Bae drove into the trees to avoid the water running down the right side of the fairway, pitched out, then flew the green and three-putted for a triple bogey. He birdied the 17th and salvaged a 68. He was one shot behind, along with Dufner.
Ernie Els, who likely would need to win to get into the Masters, had a 68 and was only three shots behind. So was Luke Donald, who can return to No. 1 in the world by winning at Innisbrook.
Padraig Harrington has been dropping shots since his course-record 61 on Thursday. He had a 72, yet still was only four behind.
The mystery, however, is Goosen.
He has a bulging disk and a degenerating disk in his lower back, which forced him to miss two majors last year. Kicking a soccer ball with his son last month caused it to flare up again, and the pain has been getting worse. What has saved the South African this week is the warm weather, and a few adjustments in his stance to help get through the ball.
"It's not good," Goosen said.
He plans to get a protein injection in his disks on Wednesday in Virginia, similar to the treatment that Vijay Singh and Fred Couples have received in Germany. Goosen's pain was so bad last year that his left leg went numb when he stooped over, and he started to put 90 percent of his weight on the right side.
He has lost length off the tee, which isn't as big of a factor at Innisbrook. He atoned for that with his putting, which has carried him two a pair of U.S. Open titles over the years.
"The last three weeks, it's really just started getting bad again," Goosen said. "So hopefully, I'll be ready to get going again after the Masters -- or maybe the Masters, if I play well tomorrow."
Goosen is No. 52 in the world, and the top 50 after Bay Hill qualify for Augusta. He could lock up a spot with a top five, and possibly stay in the top 50 even if he were to finish in the top 10. Winning, of course, comes with an automatic invitation. Beyond a return to the Masters, Goosen would love to be the first player to win three times at Innisbrook.
Furyk won the Transitions two years ago, part of a big year that ended with a $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup. He hasn't won since then, and Furyk said he had no one to blame but himself for falling out of the top 50.
He couldn't wait for last year to end, though it finally did on a happy note. He shot 69 the last day at Sherwood for a tie for sixth, earning just enough points that he finished the year at No. 50 by two-hundredths of a point. That at least made him eligible for the Masters, though Furyk hasn't had to worry about qualifying for majors for some 10 years.
His long offseason -- Furyk didn't return until Pebble Beach -- allowed him to clear his head, and he also sorted out some equipment.
"My results probably don't look good on paper, but I feel good about the way I'm playing," Furyk said. "I've been playing much better golf this year than I was last year."
DIVOTS: Stewart Cink had a hole-in-one on the par-3 eighth, notable in that he said he also made an ace on the same hole 10 years ago ... Nine of the 20 players separated by four shots going into the final round are not eligible for the Masters. A win comes with an automatic invitation. The group includes Chris DiMarco and former PGA champion Shaun Micheel.