Sneed gathered his wits enough to par the next three holes, missing birdie putts at the 8th and 9th. But it had been a shaky start, and his game was not as relaxed and fluid as it had been earlier in the week. He turned in 38, two over par on the day, 10 under for the tournament. Stadler had fallen away with bogeys at the 7th and 9th, Watson had parred into the turn at eight under, and Zoeller had birdied 8, his first subpar hole of the round, to move to six under.
A poor approach short of the 10th green set up Sneed's third bogey of the round, and now one had to think back to his remarks of the previous day, when he spoke of having to become more aggressive if his lead dwindled on the back side. Watson and Zoeller had parred 10, and Sneed led by only a stroke. Looking a bit shaky, he made sure of his par at the 11th, playing a three-iron to the safety of the back center of the green and getting down in two. He now faced the deceptive and unforgiving par-3 12th.
"My next stroke could have resulted in total disaster. Even when the rest of the golf course is still, the wind in that low corner can be gusting. Players have hit one shot into the water and a moment later flown over the green with the same club. I didn't know it at the time, but most players had been hitting eight-irons to the green and seven-irons over it. Having just played the 11th against the wind, I thought it might still be blowing at the 12th, as the holes run approximately in the same direction. The pin was tucked near the front right, flirting with the water. With about 160 yards to the center of the green, I chose a six-iron and airmailed everything. The ball ended up on the downslope of the back bunker, and I had to blast back toward the water. I had to carry the ball onto the fringe and hope I could get enough backspin to keep it on the green and not have it roll across into Rae's Creek. This had to be my best shot of the tournament. It landed perfectly in the fringe, then moved toward the pin, finishing three inches left of the hole. It gave me my biggest lift and couldn't have come at a more opportune moment."
That extraordinary shot from the bunker seemed to buoy Sneed, to steady him and offset some of the vise-grip pressure he was feeling. His pursuers now included Jack Nicklaus, suddenly eight under through 16. Up ahead, Watson was par-ring the par-5 13th after an errant tee shot, and Zoeller had to be content with a birdie after reaching the green in two. Sneed laid up at 13, pitching to five feet with his third shot, and holed the putt for a birdie 4. He was pulling away again, now with a two-stroke lead, and things seemed to be going his way.
Watson bogeyed the 14th after hitting a poor approach. Sneed drove to the right on 14, and though his second shot came nicely out of the trees, his position on the front fringe was similar to Watson's moments earlier. But unlike Watson, Sneed got it up and down safely to stay at 10 under, now three ahead.
Both Zoeller and Watson birdied 15; Sneed followed with one of his own, a Hogan-style birdie featuring a wonderful pitch shot over the water that stopped eight feet from the flag.
By this time Nicklaus had bogeyed 17 and would finish at seven under, 281. After 16, Zoeller was seven under and Watson eight under.
"I went to the 16th hole thinking it was impossible for anything to happen except for me to win. I had played brilliantly for three rounds, fought through the most dangerous part of the golf course on a day when I was playing poorly and emerged with a three-stroke lead and only three holes to play.
"As I walked to the tee, the gallery was standing and applauding, not in a wild frenzy but appreciatively. It was quite moving and exhilarating.
"I have refused to second-guess my strategy on the next three holes. There's no question I played conservatively, but I cannot imagine anyone in that position trying to put the ball in any other spots.