NORTON, Mass. – The top of the leaderboard at the Deutsche Bank Championship looks a lot like the upper echelon of the FedExCup standings.
The red-hot Dustin Johnson is tied for second with Nick Watney, the man who he replaced at the top of the standings when he won the rain-shortened Barclays on Saturday. Also at 4 under is Troy Matteson, and the three are one behind the leader, Jerry Kelly.
Meanwhile, Matt Kuchar, who finished second to Johnson at Plainfield Country Club last weekend, is on the course at 1 under through 14 holes. He leapfrogged Watney as well, moving into second in the FedExCup.
Johnson, Watney and Kuchar are playing together on Friday in the Featured Group.
The leaders have yet to tee off at the Reno-Tahoe Open, but they are already facing pressure to go low in the final round.
Troy Matteson had made five birdies in his first 11 holes to get to 10 under, three off the lead held by Scott Piercy.
Canadian Matt McQuillan has also made a much needed final-round move. He’s 4 under through nine holes, and sits at 9 under. McQuillan entered the week 148th in the FedExCup standings, putting him on the Playoffs bubble.
The winner of the Reno-Tahoe Open will earn a spot at next week’s PGA Championship if already not qualified for the event. The only player near the top of the leaderboard that is in the field next week is Steve Elkington, who won the PGA Championship in 1995.
Elkington is tied for third at 10 under, and leads the five major champions that made the cut in Reno this week (Todd Hamilton – 7 under, Justin Leonard – 6 under, Shaun Micheel – 4 under, Jose Maria Olazabal – 1 over).
After a birdie on No. 16, Sunghoon Kang looked like he might pull away from the field at Annandale. He had eagled two par 5s, and had another par 5 to play, the 532-yard 18th. But Kang backed up with a bogey on the par-4 17th, and then drove his tee shot into the water on No. 18, leading to a par and a third-round 64. He is tied for the lead at 17 under with Chris Kirk, who is 7 under for his round.
Saturday's final group of Hunter Haas, Peter Lonard and Troy Matteson also failed to capitalize on their good position. The trio is stuck in neutral -- a combined 1 under on a day where players are going really low. Haas and Lonard are currently tied for sixth, while Matteson has fallen to all the way to 28th place.
Jim Renner, who began Round 3 in 45th place, has made eight birdies and an eagle for a bogey-free 62. His rounds of 69-69-62 are currently good for third place.
During previous incarnations of Tiger Woods swing changes, his equipment remained fairly consistent. Not this time.
Like countless other pros before him, Woods is tinkering with his putter. The Scotty Cameron model he used for his decade-plus run of dominance isn’t the automatic choice anymore. Last year at the British Open he put a Nike Method 003 mid-mallet putter in the bag and it continues to appear occasionally, like at last week’s World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship.
“The Method putter is what I usually practice with at home. I like the toe swinging. It's a heel-shafted putter, so I enjoy the toe moving more,” Woods said.
“But more than anything … I've always struggled on slow greens. I've just never really have enjoyed putting on slow greens. The Method, with the grooves, it comes off faster, and it's worked on the slower greens, and one of the reasons why I switched at St. Andrews to it. And I played it at Chevron last year and I played it here this week. It definitely comes off faster, and especially on grainier greens like this, it helped a lot.”
In Woods’ final-round 66 Sunday at TPC Blue Monster at Doral he was T8 in putts, by far his best of the week.
● Speaking of putter switches, Troy Matteson appears to have hit on a good move in going to a belly putter. Last week he lost in a playoff at the Puerto Rico Open but left pleased with his play, especially on the greens.
“Last year I used the standard putter and the last four years I’ve just really struggled with my putting. Had a lot of days where I hit 15 greens and had 33 putts, and out here when you’re putting with the best putters in the world, you need to get under that 30 mark more times than not,” Matteson said.
“So this year at Torrey Pines my agent and caddie got together and said, ‘hey, why don't we just try something new.’ So we got a belly putter, and I've never really liked them because when you pick them up in the store, I think they're built for someone who's probably 5'8 to 5'10, and they're just a little short for me (Matteson is 6 foot). Mine is little over 45 inches, so it's a lot longer than what you find in the store, and all of a sudden the ball's rolling straight. My speed's not an issue.”
Matteson surprised himself with a great putting week at the Farmers Insurance Open (T9), and the TOUR had one more belly-putter convert.
● Arguably the most surprisingly slow start on TOUR this year is Jim Furyk’s, with two missed cuts in four full-field events, a first-round loss in the WGC-Accenture Match Play and only one top-10 finish (at the winners-only Hyundai Tournament of Champions). The defending FedExCup champion is 74th in 2011 points.
He’s not the type to blame equipment for a mini-slump, but it’s fact that he has some new stuff in play and is still moving things in and out of his “open bag,” which is only contracted to TaylorMade for their ball and driver.
“I’ve been tinkering, and there’s good and bad to tinkering,” Furyk said Wednesday at the Transitions Championship. “Obviously being affiliated with TaylorMade, I'm trying a lot of their products. I've got some hybrids in the bag and putters and with tinkering comes some issues as well. I'll eventually settle in, sort everything out.”
He said the biggest adjustment so far has been to his new TaylorMade Penta ball after playing Srixon, but notes it was a change he initiated.
“I actually approached TaylorMade and told them I wanted to play the ball rather than them recruiting me last year,” Furyk. “Because I really believe in it and I think it's a good product.”
● Nick Watney’s win at the WGC-Cadillac came with a Titleist 910D3 driver. He was sixth in the field in driving distance and T12 in accuracy. – John Schwarb