The American, chasing his first PGA Tour win since he captured last year’s Masters, stumbled with bogeys at the 13th, 15th and 17th holes to finish with a round of level-par 70.
Watson went into last night’s final round at 10-under par, tied for the lead with his countryman Charley Hoffman and Canadian Graham DeLaet, on a heavily congested leaderboard that included England’s newly-crowned US Open champion Justin Rose.
“I hit some shots today that were really good, some quality shots but got a couple bad breaks here and there but that’s golf,” Watson said.
“At the end of the day I still have a chance on Sunday and that’s what we are always looking for on the weeks we are playing.”
Hoffman, who opened the tournament with a stunning 61 but fell back with a second round 73, carded a 66 while DeLaet signed for a 65, matching the best round of the day, as he chases his maiden PGA Tour win.
American Chris Stroud (66) and Australian Nick O’Hern (68) were tied for fourth, just one shot off the lead, while American Ken Duke was alone in sixth after a 65.
Justin Rose was among a bunch of players in the next group at seven-under, after he shot a second successive 68. At the end of the day, 18 players were within four strokes of the lead, setting the stage for a grandstand finish.
Watson, who won his first PGA Tour title at the 2010 Travelers, came out fast with three birdies in his first six holes, before running into trouble in the stretch and getting distracted by spectators.
“I’m sitting here with another chance to win,” Watson said. “It would be my fifth win and I never thought a guy from Bagdad Florida named Bubba would have a chance for five wins on tour.
“The golf course sets up so well for me. I love the tee shots, there are a lot of cut shots, which I love to do off the tee. I got a lot of wedges and short irons here and I can make putts sometimes so it’s good.”
Hoffman produced five birdies and a lone bogey to stay in contention 12 months after he blew his chance of winning the same tournament. He held the lead with two holes to play last year when he made a double bogey then a bogey to hand victory to Australia’s Marc Leishman, who remained in the hunt to defend his title after finishing Saturday’s third round at six-under.
DeLaet, 31, had six birdies, including four in a row, and just one bogey.