By Fred Albers, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
Shut the face: Ben Curtis headed right to the driving range following his third round. He hit just eight fairways on Saturday and thought he knew the reason why -- he was shutting the club face. He spent time working on his grip and swing plane on the range and was encouraged by the perfect drive he hit on the 18th.
Slow Start: The combination of high winds and difficult greens made for a brutal pace of play in the third round. The course backed up from the very first tee. It took one hour to play the par-4 opening hole and the par-5 second. The last two groups were a combined 17 over for the opening nine. Ben Curtis teed off at 11:45 a.m. and finished at 5:36 p.m. local time. That's 5 hours, 51 minutes for a round of golf.
Wounded Warrior: Specialist Matthew Spang is part of the Wounded Warrior program and spent the day following Matt Kuchar in a wheelchair. Spang is a double amputee who lost both his legs while serving in Afghanistan. Kuchar rewarded him with autographed golf balls and gloves following the round and proudly posed for pictures, too.
The Question Mark: John Huh is known as the "question mark" for his unique last name but answered any questions about his determination this week. Huh played his first eight holes in 9 over on Thursday, but since then he is 13 under. It would have been easy fro him to withdraw after the opening 18 holes or even walk off at the turn. Huh turned lemons into lemonade and could win his second PGA TOUR event on Sunday.
Longhorns: Jordan Spieth let a good round slip away over his final seven holes. He was 5 under on the round but finished at even for the day after a double bogey on his final hole. The University of Texas freshman played with Texas alum Harrison Frazar, who also shot even par. They left the final hole, walking together, with Frazar quietly giving encouragement to Spieth.
Windy Day: Greg Chalmers proudly proclaimed he grew up in, "the third windiest city in the world." He's from Sydney, Australia, and was happy to see it blowing on Saturday. Chalmers managed to hit 10 greens and took just 25 putts. He rode the wind to a 3-under 69 and is tied for sixth place. Chalmers is hoping for even windier conditions in the final round. There is an expression on TOUR, "when the wind blows, the Aussies move up the leaderboard."
GIR: Why is Ben Curtis leading this golf tournament? Because he is hitting greens. Curtis has found a tournament best 38 of 54 greens in regulation and also leads in strokes gained-putting. That's a strong combination. If Curtis continues that on Sunday, he'll collect his fourth career win.
Ben Curtis ended the day where he started it: In the lead.
Despite a 1-over 73 Saturday, Curtis, who began the day with a two-shot lead, increased his margin and will take a three-shot lead to the final round as he tries to win for the first time since 2006.
Just how difficult was TPC San Antonio in the third round, and this week? Through the first three rounds it has played 2.192 strokes over par. That’s more than a half-stroke higher than the next toughest course, famed Riviera, has played so far this season.
There were, however, some low numbers out there.
John Huh shot 67 -- matching the lowest round of the day -- to climb 37 spots on the leaderboard and into a tie for third, two strokes back of second-place Matt Every and within five of Curtis.
Seung-Yul Noh also made a big move, shooting a 68 to also get to 4 under with Huh and Charlie Wi.
Five others, including Matt Kuchar, who carded a 67, are another stroke back at 3 under.
In all, just 19 players broke par during the third round and three failed to break 80.
The final group of Ben Curtis, David Mathis and Cameron Tringale will tee off in about 15 minutes with Curtis leading by two over Mathis and three over Tringale.
Curtis, playing out of the 126-150 category, is making just his fourth start of the season this week, with his only made cut being a tie for 14th in Puerto Rico. A three-time winner on the PGA TOUR, Curtis is in search of his first win since the 2006 84 Lumber Classic. He has just two top-10 finishes since 2009.
Because of his 2003 British Open victory, however, Curtis maintains fully-exempt status on the European Tour, where he’s fared a little better and if nothing else gotten in some competitive reps with three starts in January and February -- he tied for 48th at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, tied for 47th at the Qatar Masters and tied for 13th at the Dubai Desert Classic.
This week in San Antonio, he opened with a pair of bogey-free 5-under 67s. It’s the first time since the first two rounds of the 2011 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open that Curtis has posted back-to-back rounds in the 60s.
Through the first 36 holes at TPC San Antonio, Curtis is second in driving accuracy, tied for third in greens in regulation and sixth in strokes gained-putting.
Dating to 2000, four second-round leaders of the Valero Texas Open have held on for the win -- Eric Axley was the last to do it in 2006.
Mathis is coming off tying his season-best round, a 67, despite hitting just eight fairways at TPC San Antonio.
In 11 starts this year, he’s also made just one cut (Puerto Rico, where he tied for 25th) and in two previous starts at the Valero Texas Open, he missed the cut both times.
Mathis’ best finish on TOUR is a tie for eighth at the 2011 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Once again, Tringale is in contention in Texas. A year after finishing in a tie for fifth in this event, he birdied five of his first six holes in the second round to shoot 65 to get within three of the lead.
A few weeks ago, Tringale tied for eighth in Houston.
His only other top-10 finish of the year was a tie for fourth at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, which matched his best finish on TOUR (T4, 2011 Greenbrier Classic).
Following his second-round 67, Ben Curtis talks about his play in the 2012 Valero Texas Open with Fred Albers from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.