5 Things: Billy Horschel leads by 2 in Texas

Billy Horschel watches his tee shot on the ninth hole during the third round of the Valero Texas Open.

Billy Horschel watches his tee shot on the ninth hole during the third round of the Valero Texas Open.

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12:09:02 AM ET. 04/24/2014




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SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Moving Day at the Valero Texas Open turned out to be hang on for dear life. Winds whipping up to 25 mph swirled, switched directions and wreaked havoc.

“It was funny to wake up and have the wind dead opposite,” Jim Furyk said of Saturday’s warm wind out of the south. “Where I was hitting hybrid into Thursday and Friday, I’m hitting 9-iron today.”

“You had to play some pretty good defense,” added Bob Estes.

When it was all said and done, 36-hole leader Billy Horschel was still on top, Furyk was still hot on his heels, and Rory McIlroy (T-4) was holding steady with another competitive round under his belt. One more ticket to the Masters still waits to be punched. That will be settled on Sunday. Here are 5 Things You Need to Know:

1. Horschel Seeking His First Win: Billy Horschel isn’t lacking for confidence. Take, for instance, his prediction that he would win on the PGA Tour this season. Horschel made that bold statement during an interview with Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz after sewing up his Tour card at Q-School late last year.

“I felt that confident in where my game was at right after Q-School,” he said.

Now, he’s on the brink of making his words come true. Horschel posted a 2-under 70 for a total of 206 and a two-stroke lead.

This is the first time Horschel has held the 54-hole lead. He's playing with a new level of comfort after securing his playing privileges for next season with a runner-up finish last week in Houston.

“I told people, I said, ‘It’s going to be 'Scary Billy' in the sense that my card’s been wrapped up and I can just let it go and not have to worry about things,” he said.

Horschel isn’t looking at scoreboards this week and he wouldn’t allow himself to look ahead to what a victory and a berth in the Masters field would mean to him.

“Whether my time is tomorrow, I can’t tell you this right now, but I hope it is,” he said.

2. Furyk In Contention Again: Jim Furyk knows the questions won’t go away until he wins again. The 42-year-old Furyk already has booked his trip to Augusta for next week, but he hasn’t won since the 2010 Tour Championship. The close calls include the 2012 U.S. Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and McGladrey Classic. He also had a chance last month in Tampa and didn’t deliver.

He’ll have another chance tomorrow to earn his 17th PGA Tour title after shooting a 3-under 69 and climb into a tie for second place at 8-under.

3. Hoffman’s Health: Charley Hoffman can laugh now, but it hurt to do so not long ago. He spent six weeks sidelined with a rib injury earlier this year. He isn’t sure how he did it, but he knows this: “Broken, cracked, call it what you want. It wasn’t right.”

Hoffman first felt discomfort in San Diego in late January. But after competing in the pro-am at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he underwent an MRI that revealed the injury. Still, he played through the pain there and again at the Northern Trust Open before shutting it down to allow the rib to heal.

Hoffman began feeling better in Tampa at the Transitions Championship. He broke par in all four rounds last week in Houston. The strong play has continued this week. Hoffman enters the final round tied for second at 8-under. Hoffman has experienced success before at the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio. He held a share of the lead after 36 holes in 2011, and finished T-2. Now he’s positioned to win for the first time since the 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship. Is a return to the Masters on his mind?

“Added bonus,” he said. “I’m just trying to get a ‘W’ tomorrow, and when I’ve been close in the past, I’ve closed out.”

4. McIlroy Lurking: How tough were the conditions on Saturday? Well Rory McIlroy used that adjective – tough - three times in nearly a two-minute span to describe it. It was tough enough that the World No. 2 settled for a 1-under 71 in the third round.

McIlroy birdied two of the first three holes on Saturday, but was derailed by consecutive three-putts at the 10th and 11th hole.

“Today could have been a couple shots better,” he said, lamenting missed opportunities, especially on the closing holes.

McIlroy trails Horschel by four shots, but only two other golfers are between him and Horschel. With 18 holes to go, McIlroy hasn’t lost hope of going into Augusta with a victory under his belt.

“I feel there’s a low one in me for sure,” he said.

5. SHORT SHOTS: Leave it to a couple of Texas natives – Ryan Palmer and Bob Estes – to handle the windy conditions. Palmer hit 15 greens in regulation and carded a 68, the lone bogey-free round of the day. Estes, who hasn’t qualified for the Masters since 2004, ranks second in strokes/gained putting through three rounds. He said he switched to a Yes! Olivia-MB putter at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. … Horschel has followed up five of his seven bogeys with a birdie on the next hole, and ranks first this week in the bounce back category. … Furyk is leading the field in proximity to the hole averaging 27 feet 10 inches. … Because more than 78 players made the 36-hole cut, a secondary cut was made after 54 holes to reduce the field to low 70 and ties; 74 players will compete in the final round.

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