CROMWELL, Conn. -- We’re still 45 minutes away from the final group of Brian Davis and Roland Thatcher teeing off. Both are trying to win for the first time on the PGA TOUR. Here’s a sort of tale-of-the-tape of the two co-leaders.
-- Thatcher, who hasn’t made a cut since March and has made just three all year, is looking for his first top 10 of the year. He has just two top-10 finishes each of the last four seasons on TOUR.
-- Thatcher missed his previous two cuts at the Travelers Championship in 2009 and 2010. His only other start came in 2004 when he tied for 71st.
-- Twice, Thatcher has led going into the final round of an event. In 2004, he led at the Reno-Tahoe Open before finishing in a tie for fifth. In 2010, he was leading the Children’s Miracle Network Classic going into the last day before finishing second.
-- Jason Dufner, who won twice on TOUR this year, and seven-time winner John Huston are the only former Auburn Tigers who have won on TOUR. Thatcher and Will Claxton, who is three strokes off the lead, are both former Tigers.
-- Davis is looking for his fourth top-10 finish of the season, which would tie his personal best from 2009.
-- Davis has five runner-up finishes in 237 starts on TOUR -- but zero wins.
-- Davis is making his seventh start here. His only top 10 came last year (T9). Davis’ last seven rounds at TPC River Highlands have been at 68 or better.
-- Davis’ only other third-round lead/co-lead came at the 2010 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial when he was tied with Bryce Molder entering the final round. Davis shot 68, but Zach Johnson shot a 64 to win.
HONOLULU -- The leaders have now reached the halfway point of their third rounds, and one thing seems apparent -- no player is going to run away with the championship.
Stuart Appleby and Roland Thatcher share the lead at 12 under, with Mark Wilson one stroke back. Shigeki Maruyama, Jimmy Walker and Steve Marino are at 10 under. Six other players are within four shots of the lead, with plenty of golf remaining in this 36-hole finish Sunday.
Thatcher has the hottest hand of the day. Teeing off on the 10th hole in the third round, he's a bogey-free 4 under through his first nine holes, having rolled in putts from inside 10 feet, from 14 feet and from outside 18 feet.
Appleby, who shared the 36-hole lead with Maruyama, hasn't gotten much help from his putter. He bogeyed the 14th after missing a par putt just outside six feet, then missed a birdie opportunity inside four feet at the par-4 16th.
He did, however, hit a brilliant shot out of the fairway bunker at the par-5 18th, leaving him a 3-foot, 5-inch putt for eagle that he drained, enabling him to jump back into a tie for the lead..
Maruyama has had to scramble for most of the first nine holes. He's missed five of his first seven fairways, and five of his first eight greens.
Thatcher briefly held the solo lead at 11 under after Maruyama bogeyed the 17th hole (his eight hole of the day).
HONOLULU -- The last time Roland Thatcher played a PGA TOUR event, he started the week 179th on the money list and in danger of losing his card. Not until the final putt dropped in the Children's Miracle Network Classic last November – the final event of the Fall Series -- did he secure his place inside the top 125 on the money list, thus avoiding q-school.
The nervous moments are still etched in his memory. He took a four-shot lead going into that Sunday at Disney but struggled on the back nine to fall off the pace. Facing a five-foot par putt on the last hole, Thatcher needed to make it to claim solo second and keep his card.
Mercifully, the putt dropped.
"I guarantee that experience took a year off my life," Thatcher said.
It also gave him motivation for this year, which is: "To not wait until the last moment, the last putt, the last tournament of the year," he said.
Evidently, he's serious about that. Thatcher's 5-under 65 on Saturday has him in contention going into the final day, with 36 holes set for Sunday. He’s two shots behind leader Shigeki Maruyama, with the afternoon wave still on the course.
Thatcher did have his struggles in the second round. After opening with consecutive birdies, he gave those strokes away with a double bogey on the 14th hole (his fifth of the day after starting his round off the 10th tee).
After that, he played bogey-free, with a birdie at the par-5 18th, then four birdies in his final nine holes.
"The swing has been at times really good and at times not so good," Thatcher said. "But I guess really the best thing I've been doing is placing the ball in the right spots. Misses have been easy up-and-downs or easy putts and I haven't really put too much stress on myself to this point."
Saturday's 65 is by far the best of his seven career rounds here. In his three previous starts at Waialae, he missed the cut twice.
"I'm a late-in-the-year guy," Thatcher said. "The fact that I'm even playing the weekend here is good news."
Still, he wants to use last November's near-disaster in a positive manner. Shooting 8 under through the first two rounds of the year is exactly what he needed.
"Instead of being dead exhausted at the end of the year," Thatcher said, "I think I had a little extra pep in my step heading into the offseason and actually didn't take any time off at all. I was in the gym and on the golf course on Tuesday after that Sunday round.
"I tried to hit this year with a little bit quicker start. So far, it's paying off." -- Mike McAllister/Heather Deranek
If not for Spencer Levin, Roland Thatcher might not be in Hawaii right now. It was Levin who Thatcher was tied for second with late at the season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Classic, where Thatcher, who entering that week was 179th on the money list, needed at least a solo second to finish inside the top 125 on the money list. Levin, who was paired with Thatcher, bogeyed the final hole and Thatcher got his card for this season.
Fast forward to Saturday at Waialae and Thatcher is taking full advantage of the opportunity. Thatcher is 4 under in his second round and 7 under for the week and hovering near the top of the leaderboard.
He has plenty of company, however, with Shigeki Maruyama at 8 under after playing his first 13 holes in 3 under. Steve Marino is also at 7 under, while Chris DiMarco, after a second straight 67, is among a group at 6 under that includes Matt Kuchar.r
Roland Thatcher is eight holes away from winning his first career PGA TOUR title. After a slow start, Thatcher is 2 under on his round and is alone atop the leaderboard – for now – at 20 under. One shot back, though, is Robert Garrigus, while Johnson Wagner and Spencer Levine are each three back. Rickie Fowler is four back.
Should Thatcher win, he would obviously lock up a card for the next two years. If he comes in solo second, though, that would also be enough to land him a spot in the top 125 on the money list.
Speaking of that top 125, Wagner is now projected to climb to 125th should the leaderboard remain the same the rest of the way. Briny Baird? He’s now projected at 127th (Mark Wilson is actually projected at 126th, but thanks to his win in Mexico last season, he’s safe for another year). -- Brian Wacker
What was a six-shot lead for Roland Thatcher at one point in the third round is now down to just one -- Thatcher is even through his first five holes, while Robert Garrigus is 4 under through six and now 17 under for the week.
KODAK UPDATE: Troy Merritt had a chance to win the Kodak Challenge with a birdie on the par-4 17th Sunday, but he managed just a par. Merritt had 150 yards in and hit his approach shot to 33 feet, but he missed the putt. That means unless Rickie Fowler or Aaron Baddeley eagles the hole there will be a three-way playoff following the conclusion of the tournament.
MONEY LIST MOVERS: A number of players are vying for a spot in the top 125, but two players are trying to squeeze out a spot in the 30 here in the final round. In essence, if Heath Slocum can finish higher than J.B. Holmes on the leaderboard here at Disney, he’ll move inside the top 30 and secure a spot in the field for next year’s Masters and U.S. Open.
FOWLER IN CONTENTION: Rickie Fowler is 3 under through his first eight holes … and suddenly in contention at 14 under. That also could have a direct impact on Brett Wetterich’s future. Wetterich, who is now tied with Fowler, needs to finish solo third or better to fulfill his major medical exemption, which would make him fully exempt for 2011. Wetterich does however at least have one more start next year, not to mention q-school this year, if he needs it. The point? There’s a lot of fluidity on the leaderboard right now in terms of the top 125.
A double bogey, bogey finish isn’t exactly the way Roland Thatcher wanted to end his round. The good news for the 33-year-old is that he still has a four-shot lead going into the final round.
Chris Stroud had a chance to narrow that gap to two, but a bogey on the final hole dropped him to 14 under.
For Thatcher, this is just the second time in his career that he’s held the 54-hole lead -- the last was at the 2004 Reno-Tahoe Open, where he tied for fifth. His total of 198 through three rounds is also the lowest 54-hole total of his career by one stroke.
Thatcher isn’t the only one with a lot on the line, though. Briny Baird entered the week 126th on the money list and is still projected in that position after playing his first three rounds in 7 under, which puts him in a tie for 32nd.
Troy Merritt, who has a share of the Kodak Challenge lead and can win the $1million prize with a birdie on No. 17 on Sunday (unless Rickie Fowler or Aaron Baddeley eagle), will also have his eye on the money list. He dropped two spots in the projections to 123rd and needs a solid round Sunday to stay in the top 125.
In other words, Sunday should supply plenty of storylines.