IRVING, Texas – You’ve seen plenty of scratchy third rounds, right? You know, those times when players at the top of the leaderboard seem to use balata balls, persimmon drivers and forget how to putt.
Well, Saturday wasn’t one of those days at the HP Byron Nelson Championship at TPC Four Seasons Resort.
A round of applause for those in the last groups, most notably leader Keegan Bradley, for they held together nicely – even as temperatures soared, winds kicked up and greens dried out. The field average was 70.165 for the par-70 course and five of the top six names on the leaderboard through 36 holes bettered that, so on Moving Day, none of them had it in reverse, going the wrong way.
Here are 5 Things you need to know from a day when the thermometer hit 92:
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1. Routine? Hardly
We’re quite sure this isn’t how Tom Gillis drew up his plans for the par-5 seventh. Drive right of the fairway, a 190-yard iron to lay-up to a perfect 89 yards, and then . . . “a big bowl of chili.” Gillis hung his head in the middle of the fairway, shook it furiously, but then re-grouped.
His third shot had gone 30 yards. Yeah, he laid the sod right over it. A five-star chili dip. But from 55 yards – and a tougher angle than what he had had from 89, to tell the truth – Gillis hit a brilliant, low, skipping wedge that came to a screeching halt just 8 feet from the flagstick.
He calmly sank the putt for a momentum-saving par.
But the unheralded journeyman from Michigan wasn’t done with the unconventional stuff. At 18, a 429-yarder, Gillis hit his 134-yard approach into a greenside bunker. Bad mistake. Of course, it didn’t matter, because minutes later, he holed the 45-foot bunker shot for his fourth and final birdie in his round of 3-under 67.
“I used to not like it much,” Gillis said of 18, which has water all the way down the left and was especially difficult in a hard, left-to-right wind. “(But) the more I play it, the more I’m starting to like it.”
Holing a bunker shot certainly helped.
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2. And for another view of 18 . . .
We offer Keegan Bradley. All he’s done this week is open the tournament with a 10-under 60, tack on solid rounds of 69 and 68, pile up 19 birdies and an eagle. Oh, and make three consecutive bogeys at the home hole.
Of course, the opening question at his post-round press conference was about the 18th.
“Tomorrow is the day, right down the middle (of the fairway), then on the green. I’m due,” he said.
Trying to pull off the demanding fete of going wire-to-wire, Bradley finished at 13-under 197, though both his playing cometitors – Sang-Moon Bae (66 – 198) and Gillis (67 – 199) cut into his lead. True, the 18th spoiled what seemed to be headed for a wonderful day, but Bradley remains undaunted. He’s not spooked by the 18th and considers Saturday “one of the most solid rounds of the year, considering all that was going on.”
He was talking about the wind, the heat, the tougher conditions. He was not about to belabor the 18th. Besides he was hardly the only one to stumble there. In fact, the field average of 4.193 made it the fifth-toughest hole as only Zack Fisher’s hole-out from 139 yards for eagle and seven birdies were highlights from the 83 who played it.
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3. Big week for Leishman
Then again, which one are you talking about?
Marc Leishman, the personable Aussie who shot 69 to reach 5-under 205 and push into a share of 16th? Or Jeff Leishman of Jupiter Dunes, Fla.?
The latter is Gillis’ longtime coach who the player praises for not ignoring him. Gillis had cut ties with Leishman, only to find some rocky times with his game. Having missed five straight cuts and seven of the last eight, Gillis called Leishman “and he was nice enough to take me back.”
Gillis and Leishman met last Saturday, then again Sunday. “Just talking,” Gillis said. Clearly, what Leishman said, Gillis heard, because he’s not only made the cut, he’s only two off Bradley’s lead.
The other Leishman, by the way, is trying for his fourth straight top 10.
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4. Dialing long distance
He doesn’t have a plan unlike any of his colleagues. “Try to get the short (putts) going in first,” he said.
But since that plan didn’t work, Piercy took advantage of a productive substitute. He drained the long ones.
How long? Try 45 feet for birdie at the par-3 17th. Or 58 feet at the par-4 16th. Or the virtual “tap-in,” a 30-footer at the par-4 12th. Oh, and the 45-footer at the par-4 10th wasn’t too shabby, either.
“I was fortunate,” said Piercy, after shooting 66 to get into solo fourth. At 10 under, he’s just three off the lead.
“I made a bunch of long ones and I needed to. It was hard to get the ball close to the hole with wedges in your hand.”
Certainly, Piercy could use a strong finish. He’s missed the cut in four of his last five starts.
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5. Short shots
Say this about Sang-Moon Bae, he’s consistent. Going 66-66-66 to get to 12-under and just one off the lead, he’s only made four bogeys and has failed to birdie just four holes – Nos. 4, 6, 11, and 14. . . . Odds of a successful title defense are highly unlikely since Jason Dufner, despite a 3-under 67, and at T-32 is 10 back. . . . With 83 players having made the 36-hole cut at level par, another cut was required. Ten players fell short, so 73 will tee up for Sunday’s final round, with 1-over the cutoff. . . . Among those who will play all 72 holes: John Daly. It will be just the third time Daly has played all 72 in eight starts. . . . Angel Cabrera continues to shot a rejuvenated game. At 65-69-70, he’s T-10 and while he’s seven back, he’s in line for another solid finish. . . . Local favorite Jordan Spieth stumbled with a 73 and at level par, he’s T-63. “Just making too many bogeys from the middle of the fairway,” said the 19-year old who threatened to win this tournament when he was a 16-year-old amateur. . . . The par-4 15th played toughest, with a field average of 4.386. Only two birdies were made there, opposed to 25 bogeys, three doubles, and a dreaded “other.” . . . Players will wear red ribbons during Sunday’s final round in remembrance of Ken Venturi, the 1964 U.S. Open champion and longtime CBS broadcaster who died Friday at 82.