THE MEMORIAL: Surprise package takes shine off Woods
DUBLIN (Ohio): AMERICAN journeyman Spencer Levin stole the limelight from four-time champion Tiger Woods at the Memorial tournament on Saturday, twice chipping in to grab a one-shot lead in a wind-buffeted third round.
In pursuit of his first PGA Tour victory, Levin survived a few anxious moments on the back nine to card a three-under 69 and take control of the event hosted by golfing great Jack Nicklaus.
The 27-year-old shrugged off bogeys at the 12th and 16th, then sank a clutch par putt from 14 feet at the 17th to post an eight-under total of 208 at Muirfield Village Golf Club. "I don't know if I could have done much better," said Levin, whose round was one of only three better than 70 as winds gusted up to 35 mph (56 kph). "I had some really good breaks, so I'll take it. I played pretty solid. This is what I've dreamed of ... to be in the lead of a tournament, especially Jack's tournament.
"This is one of the biggest tournaments on the tour. You couldn't put yourself in a better position."
Overnight pacesetter Rory Sabbatini of South Africa recovered from an erratic start to shoot a 71 and finish at seven under, two better than American Rickie Fowler, who birdied two of the last four holes for a 69. Woods, who briefly led by one shot early in the third round, was alone in fourth at four under, recording four bogeys after the turn for a 73.
"It was a tough day out there," said Sabbatini, a six-time champion on the PGA Tour who bogeyed three of the first six holes on Saturday. "I had to continually battle on the front nine, and then I had a couple of opportunities on the back, never quite took advantage of them.
"But I'm still very happy with the way I played. I gave myself opportunities and, in these conditions, that's all you can hope to do."
Woods, who would draw level with Nicklaus in second place in the all-time standings with 73 PGA Tour wins should he triumph, totalled 32 putts in a frustrating round.
"I had my opportunities to move up that board," Woods said after covering the back nine in three-over 39. "I missed a few putts that I should have made. But I'm only four back, and out here with the conditions, supposed to be like this tomorrow again, anything can happen."
Woods made a fast start to the third round, sinking a 22-foot birdie putt from the fringe of the green at the par-four first to join Sabbatini in a two-way tie at the top. Moments later, Woods held the outright lead when Sabbatini bogeyed the opening hole after finding a greenside bunker with his approach. Woods was briefly caught by Levin and Sabbatini before Levin took control, chipping in from greenside rough to eagle the par-five fifth and grab a two-shot lead.
The chain-smoking and often fidgety Levin forged three ahead after hitting a superb approach to five feet at the par-four sixth and calmly sinking the birdie putt. Though Levin had his lead cut to one after he bogeyed the seventh where Woods had birdied, he never relinquished control. Out in four-under 32, he chipped in from 30 yards to birdie the par-four 10th and stretch his lead to four shots, Woods having bogeyed the hole playing one group ahead.
Levin stumbled at the treacherous par-three 12th, where he was bunkered off the tee, and also at the 16th where he missed the green, but he parred the last two holes to stay in front.
Levin's best finish on the PGA Tour was a playoff loss to Johnson Wagner at last year's Mayakoba Golf Classic but his most painful was a third place at the Phoenix Open in February when he briefly led by seven shots early in the final round. Asked what he had learned from that experience, he replied: "People have been asking me that question, and I don't know yet.
"I'll be able to answer that tomorrow when I get done." Reuters