HUMBLE, Texas – Anthony Kim never knew where his tee shots were going. Bryce Molder never got control of his swing.
Both saved themselves with their short games Saturday and ended up tied for the third-round lead in the Houston Open.
Kim missed 11 of 14 fairways, but relied on good putting to shoot a 3-under 69 that left him 10 under for the tournament. Molder, the second-round leader, made four bogeys and five birdies for a 71.
“It was a tough day,” Molder said. “I just couldn’t quite find the club in my swing, and it was just a little off.”
Vaughn Taylor (70) and Joe Ogilvie (71) were two strokes back at 8 under after both bogeyed the difficult 18th hole. Houston resident Jeff Maggert (70), Graham DeLaet (71) and Lee Westwood (72) were three strokes behind the leaders.
The players faced only light breezes after wind gusted up to 30 mph during the first two rounds. The mild conditions couldn’t help Kim, who was hitting tee shots into trouble all day.
“I don’t know what happened today,” Kim said. “Just spraying the ball off the tee, just hitting the worst shots I’ve hit probably this year.”
Kim finished second to Camilo Villegas at the Honda Classic, one of three top-25 finishes this year. He hasn’t held or shared the third-round lead since last year’s Canadian Open, where he finished third.
After three-plus years on the tour, Kim feels as if he’s matured enough to make smart decisions, when parts of his game are letting him down.
“I’ve learned a lot from past experiences,” he said. “It gives me confidence that I’m getting the ball up and down from a lot of places I probably shouldn’t. That’s dangerous, because you don’t want to rely on that.”
Kim pulled a 300-yard drive on the par-4 12th hole, then flopped a wedge from an awkward stance within a foot with a pond lurking on the other side of the green.
“I told my caddie, ‘If I don’t hit this perfectly, it’s going to go 50 yards in the water,’ ” Kim said.
He hooked another tee shot on the 17th hole, then wedged out of the rough to three feet. Kim saved par from behind the green at No. 18, chipping down the hill and sinking an 8-footer.
“There were some spots today, I don’t know how I got out,” he said. “But I was happy to go ahead and hit some lucky shots and good shots, and get away with it.”
Molder hit his share of errant tee shots, too, after a solid 66 on Friday. He made three bogeys on the front nine, then birdied two of the first three holes on the back.
He dunked his tee shot in the water on 18, then hit a 6-iron to 14 feet and made the putt for an unexpected par. Molder had seven one-putt greens on the back nine and a total of 26 putts in his round.
“Luckily, my putter kind of held me in there,” Molder said. “I always kind of know that if I can just kind of get it going the direction I want it to go, then I’m usually going to be OK.”
Molder, a four-time All-American at Georgia Tech, is winless in 88 career PGA Tour starts. He got to play Augusta National once a year when he was in college, but has never played in the Masters.
He’ll earn an invitation with his first victory, but said he’s not thinking about what will be on the line for him on Sunday.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t in the back of my mind, and wouldn’t be just a huge thrill,” Molder said. “But that’s a lot of steps away.”
Molder also was tied for the lead after the second round this year at Pebble Beach, and tied for 10th. He admitted that he was nervous on Saturday morning, but he’s eager to see how he copes with the pressure on Sunday.
“A day like today can only help,” Molder said. “I knew, over the last two days, I was going to face some times where it didn’t feel very good, where I was uncomfortable out there and hit some poor shots. All you can do is just be ready for that, handle it as well as you can.”
Justin Leonard (67) moved into contention in the morning with two eagles on his front nine. He made a double bogey on the 14th hole, though, and dropped into the logjam at 6 under.
“Just off the golf course, it’s a little disappointing,” Leonard said. “But at the same time, there are so many good things to pull from today. As the day wears on, I’ll see those things a little more clearly.”
Leonard, who lives in Dallas, is seeking his first win since the 2008 St. Jude Classic. He has three victories in the Texas Open in San Antonio, but has never won in Houston. He tied for 19th last year, his best finish since a tie for sixth in 2002, the final time the tournament was played at the nearby TPC at the Woodlands.