IRVING, Texas — Ryan Palmer sat down after finishing his third round and put his head down on the table. He was exhausted — and still leading — after a 3-over 73 on a gusty day at the Byron Nelson Championship.
The Texas native who made the cut only once in his first seven appearances at Lord Byron’s tournament, took a one-stroke lead over Sergio Garcia into the final round after surviving a sun-soaked but brutal day for scoring Saturday at TPC Four Seasons.
“We chalked it up as a hard day of golf,” Palmer said. “If you had told me Thursday I was going to have a one-shot lead, I would have called you a liar and said whatever. But my bad round is out of the way, I think, and I still lead by one.”
Even with two bogeys the last three holes, Palmer finished a stroke ahead of playing partner Garcia after the two started the day tied.
Garcia shot a 74 while also making bogeys at the 16th and 18th holes, where he missed makable putts.
“It was definitely hard. At the same time I have to say I got nothing out of my round,” Garcia said. “I could not shoot one shot higher than I did. So if you look at it that way, and I’m only one shot behind Ryan, and I have tomorrow, I think it’s pretty positive.”
The last three holes at TPC Four Seasons played into the wind, sustained all day at 25 mph with gusts near 40.
“Obviously the scores show how hard it was,” Palmer said. “Bad, hard day, that is for sure. I hit it pretty good I felt, but it’s hard to hit some of these tee balls… Just a hard round of golf.”
Conditions are expected to be similar for the final round Sunday.
Only eight of 74 players shot under par Saturday, and there were no bogey-free rounds. The best round was a 67 by Argon Atwal that tied him with Ryuji Imada (70) for third place at 3 under.
“Par’s really good on every hole, and I’m just lucky to shoot 67,” Atwal said after his round with six birdies and three bogeys. “You catch the wrong gust and you could be in serious trouble.”
Garcia missed a 5-foot par putt on the 535-yard 16th hole, where Palmer also bogeyed after missing the fairway with his tee shot.
Palmer, who is letting caddie James Edmondson call the shots this week, missed the fairway again at No. 18 and two-putted from 27 feet once he got on the green. Garcia hit his drive way right and still had a chance to covert an 8½-foot par-saver that would have put him back in a share for the lead.
Garcia began the week with an infected fingernail on his left ring finger that forced him to withdraw from a British Open qualifier after just five holes. He didn’t have any practice rounds at TPC Four Seasons before opening with consecutive 66s.
Gary Woodland and Matt Kuchar shot 68s and were tied with Joe Ogilvie (72) for fifth at 2 under.
“You’ve got trees and rough and greens that are built for not a lot of wind,” Ogilvie said. “And undulations, and it’s like the movie ‘Planes, Trains & Automobiles,’ you’ve got a lot going on here.”
Local amateur Jordan Spieth opened with consecutive birdies before going on to a 72. He was among eight players tied for eighth place, only four strokes behind Palmer.
“I was like all right, who knows what can happen, who says you can’t shoot 5, 6 under today,” Spieth said. “And then reality kind of kicked in.”
Spieth’s round ended about 4 p.m., the same time the other 245 boys in his senior class at Dallas Jesuit Prep were beginning their graduation ceremony on the SMU campus about 20 miles away. Spieth didn’t try to make it to the ceremony, also near where Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was getting married.
It is the second year in a row that the 17-year-old Spieth made the cut at the Nelson. Going into the final round last season, he was tied for seventh six strokes back. He tied for 16th, six strokes behind winner Jason Day.
Palmer had a bogey at No. 6 where his first two shots found the rough before a two-putt from 19 feet. He got that stroke back with his only birdie, a 9-footer at No. 10.
“The front nine, I was actually kind of cruising along, not letting the wind bother me,” Palmer said. “It got tougher and tougher. … The last five holes are tough enough on a calm day. I don’t feel like I played that bad. It was a hard day of golf.”
This is the third time Palmer has shared or been in the lead alone going into the final round. He won at the Sony Open in Hawaii in 2010, the last of his three PGA Tour victories, and finished second at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational last season.
An exhausting day was probably alleviated a bit for Palmer because he wasn’t having to think about which shots to hit off the tee and from the fairway. That direction is coming from Edmondson, the only caddie he has ever had, with a game plan devised for Palmer with the help of instructor Randy Smith.
“I told him several times today, ‘Perfect!’ I was calling him pro all day today too. He was the man,” Palmer said. “I’ll be honest with you how relaxed and not that tired I am. That could be part of it because I’m not going into each shot grinding and thinking and overanalyzing. It’s a blessing to have somebody that knows my game the way he does.”
DIVOTS: Jeff Overton shot a 71 on Saturday, his 28th birthday, and is tied for eighth. He was the first-round leader after a 64 that he followed with a 74 Friday. … The last amateur to win a PGA Tour event was Phil Mickelson at the 1991 Northern Telecom Open. The youngest amateur winner on the PGA Tour was Johnny McDermott, who was 19 years, 10 months when he won the 1911 U.S. Open.