5 Things: Stewart Cink, Bill Haas' days differ

Bill Haas, left, and Stewart Cink took the lead in the third round of the 2013 Shell Houston Open.

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1. CINK, HAAS DIVERGE: Sunday's final pairing of co-leaders Stewart Cink and Bill Haas could become a bit of a rollercoaster battle, judging by their rounds while paired together Saturday in climbing to the front of the Shell Houston Open.

Cink started out a stroke ahead of Haas and was steady early, then shined mid-round with birdies at Nos. 7, 8, 11 and 12. Haas bogeyed No. 3, then birdied five of six from Nos. 6-11. Haas bogeyed again at No. 13 to fall two back of Cink again – then quickly rebounded with a birdie at No. 14, where Cink carded his only bogey. Cink then rebounded in similar fashion with a birdie to pull ahead of his partner, only to see Haas erase the difference again with a birdie at No. 16.

Perhaps the resilience each showed with their bogey-birdie sequences on the back nine steeled their resolve for Sunday.

"Tomorrow you're going to have to play very well," Haas said. "You can't just hang on and hope everybody else will fall back."

The big picture also shows Cink and Haas in vastly different places in recent years.

Cink's Official World Golf Ranking has slipped to No. 272 in the nearly four years since he won the Open Championship at Turnberry in a playoff over Tom Watson.

"I'll be nervous and I definitely will not be ignoring the fact that I'll feel a little bit nervous tomorrow," he said. "But that's just natural human behavior and I'm looking forward to it. To get back in the hunt is what you play golf for when you're out on the PGA Tour.

Haas, on the other hand has won four Tour events since Cink won the Open.

A win from either, however, could spark talk of a hot hand when players begin arriving at Augusta National.

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2. MEN OF THE MORNING: Bud Cauley and Louis Oosthuizen posted the two best rounds on Saturday, 7-under 65, to move from T-31 to part of a nine-way tie for seventh at 9 under. Both were nearly finished by the time second-round leader Steve Wheatcroft teed off.

Dressed in head-to-toe white, Cauley birdied four of his first six holes before making his only bogey of the day at the par-3 ninth. He had four more birdies on the back. The round put Cauley in contention after missing the cut in two other events this month, the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational, and withdrawing in a third, the Tampa Bay Championship. His best finish so far this year was a T-24 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Oosthuizen, who played two groups behind Cauley on Saturday, played a bogey-free round. The Shell Houston Open is Oosthuizen’s fifth PGA Tour start in 2013. He has made the cut twice.

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3. MICKELSON’S STRONG FINISH: Phil Mickelson did little to please the Humble crowds early Saturday morning. He was in the fifth group to go off the first tee after barely making the weekend.

Courtesy of a hot putter, Mickelson birdied five of his final seven holes (Nos. 12, 13, 15, 16 and 18), and had one bogey at the 14th. In his post-round interview, Mickelson stressed the importance of playing more reactive golf on the back nine. It’s what allowed him to score. He finished the day with a 5-under 67.

When Mickelson finished his round, he trailed second-round leader Wheatcroft by four. He’ll enter the third round five shots behind new leader Stewart Cink.

• • •

4. MCILROY HOLDS STEADY: A 71 on Saturday might not thrill many golfers who barely made the cut, but Rory McIlroy saw his third round of 1 under as a good sign.

"Everything feels good in my game," he said. "It's just about playing a bit more competitive golf and just getting a little sharper. I just feel a little rusty out there, at times."

McIlroy's first six holes Saturday were solid, a birdie at No. 2 and five pars. His best work came during his next six holes, with birdies at Nos. 7, 8 and 12. He then closed with three bogeys in his final six, two of his four missed fairways among those. But the difficult finish didn't dissuade him.

"I hit the ball really well, the best I've hit it on the course this week," McIlroy said. "I'm very happy with the signs I've seen. . . . It's all moving in the right direction," he said. "I definitely feel like I played better (on Saturday) than the 71 on the scorecard suggests. Even though it wasn't my best round scoring-wise, it was still a great one for me."

5. SHORT SHOTS: Steve Wheatcroft's biggest mistake of the day occurred in the spotlight, as he and playing partner Jason Kokrak had the course to themselves on No. 18, but Wheatcroft's costliest stretch was at Nos. 9 and 10 with back-to-back bogeys as he made the turn. Give the Monday qualifier credit though: Just as he rebounded with pars at Nos. 11 and 12 to steady his round, Wheatcroft bounced back from behind the green on No. 18 with a decent pitch and a solid putt for bogey to remain in the hunt. . . . Seven golfers managed 5-under 67s on "moving day" – co-leader Haas, Ben Crane, Lee Westwood, Billy Horschel, Keegan Bradley, Kevin Chappell and Phil Mickelson. Easy to imagine players such as those shooting up the leaderboard at Augusta National as well. . . . Among the nine golfers carding 65 or 67 Saturday, only Bud Cauley failed to notch at least two birdies on Nos. 7-12, as most golfers heated up around the turn. . . . McIlroy's decision to play at the Valero Texas Open next week forced him to cancel on UNICEF in a humanitarian visit to Haiti. "I'm a big supporter of what they do all over the world," McIlroy said. "Hopefully, I can make it up to them in some way." . . . Among the 16 golfers who shot over par Saturday, Scott Stallings stayed closest to the lead: His 1-over 73 was good enough to stand at T-34, 4 under through three rounds.

The Associated Press contributed.

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