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Monday March 18, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday April 24, 2013 MYT 1:33:20 PM
PALM HARBOUR (Florida): Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open winner who last won a US PGA event in 2008, fired a four-under 67 on Saturday to share the 54-hole lead at the Tampa Bay Championship.
The 40-year-old American stood alongside countryman Kevin Streelman and South African George Coetzee on six-under 207 after three rounds, the highest 54-hole leader score on the US PGA Tour this season, at the US$5.5mil event.
“I was pretty focused on controlling what I could, which wasn’t much. It was pretty tough out there,” Leonard said. “I hit a lot of great drives, made a few greens and hit a few putts and suddenly I’m leading the golf tournament.”
Americans Jim Furyk, Ben Kohles and Tag Ridings share fourth with Australian Greg Chalmers on 208 with England’s Luke Donald and Americans Bryce Molder, Jordan Spieth, Brian Harman and Shawn Stefani on 209.
Leonard, who seeks his 13th Tour title overall and his first since the 2008 St Jude Classic, hit all 13 fairways off the tee and credited that accuracy with his jump to the top.
“That’s a big thing on this golf course,” Leonard said. “There’s not a whole lot of rough but if you are in the rough, you are near some trees and have to manufacture something.
“Being in the fairways all day allowed me to be more aggressive with my shots.”
Leonard birdied the par-four second, then closed the front nine with back-to-back birdies. He added short birdie putts at the par-five 11th and par-four 12th holes before taking his lone bogey of the day at the par-three 15th.
“There’s not a whole lot I would change about it,” Leonard said. “Very pleased with the way I hit the ball. I put myself into nice position.”
Streelman is in his 153rd US PGA event with his career-best finishes being shares of third in 2011 at Puerto Rico and Mexico. He began the round sharing 31st place, seven strokes off the pace, but fired a 65 to move up.
The 34-year-old opened with a birdie, added another at the sixth and then began the back nine with three birdies in four holes, including the par-four 10th, par-five 11th and par-three 13th. He added a birdie at the par-three 17th.
“I believe in the work I have done and I’m getting more comfortable out here,” Streelman said. “I’ll give it my best and see what happens.”
Coetzee, 26, is playing his first US PGA event that is not a Major tournament or World Golf Championships event. He had not seen the course before this week and played only nine holes of practice due to bad weather.
The Pretoria native began with a birdie, added another at the seventh and birdied the par-five 11th as well. He answered his lone bogey, at the par-four 16th, with a birdie at 17 to stay in a share of the lead.
“I’m just here to pick up experience,” Coetzee said. “I’m not expecting to win. I just want to go out and have a good round.”
Adam Scott and K.J. Choi set the tone early for this wild day by going into full retreat.
That allowed for a game of musical chairs at the top of the leaderboard, with nothing remotely close to being settled going into the final day. Sixteen players were separated by only three shots at a tournament where the winner has come from behind to win in four of the last five years.
Scott had a two-putt birdie on the opening hole to briefly take the lead, and that was the highlight of his day. He three-putted from about 15 feet for bogey on third, made bogey with a wedge in his hand on the par-five fifth hole and stumbled to a 76. Choi, who also was one shot out of the lead, didn’t make a birdie in his round of 76.
They still were only five shots out of the lead.
Shawn Stefani, the 31-year-old rookie who led by one, had a 74 and still was only two shots behind.
His day could have been much worse except for a tee shot that caromed off a tree and into the fairway on the second hole, and a big hook on the third that hit the tyre of a golf cart and stayed in play. Instead of hitting his third shot from the tee, he could reach the green for a two-putt par. — Agencies
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