Daily Wrap-up: Tampa Bay Champ. presented by EverBank, Round 3

March 16, 2013

By PGATOUR.COM wire reports

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Justin Leonard walked toward the 12th green Saturday at Innisbrook and saw a scoreboard that showed he was tied for the lead in the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank. He knocked in his 8-foot birdie putt, assumed he was ahead, and then never looked at another board the rest of the day.

He might do the same Sunday.

There's no point in staring at scores, not with so many names separated by so few shots. Besides, the Copperhead course at Innisbrook is playing so difficult even in pleasant weather that it's best not to think about anything except the next shot.

"It is hard," Leonard said after his 4-under 67 put him in a three-way tie for the lead with Kevin Streelman and George Coetzee of South Africa. "There's not a whole lot of birdie holes on those last six holes. With the greens getting firmer and faster as they did today -- which I'm sure they will again tomorrow. You have to be pretty patient out there and really pick your spots pretty carefully."

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.

Streelman finished his 6-under 65 nearly three hours before the last group walked off the 18th green.

"I wanted to get to 6 under today," Streelman said. "I had that number in my mind to at least have a chance going into tomorrow, so I was happy to get there."

He had no idea at the time he would all the way to the top of the leaderboard.

Leonard ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn and had the lead to himself before a bogey from the bunker on the 15th. Coetzee bounced back from his lone bogey with a birdie on the rowdy 17th hole, where Hooters waitresses serve wings in the grandstands. That gave him a 68.

They were tied at 6-under 207, more evidence that the Copperhead course is perhaps the most complete test in Florida. Even on a warm, breezy afternoon, it was easier to go backward that to move away from the field.

Scott and Choi were proof of that.

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 the third, made bogey with a wedge in his hand on the par-5 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 tire 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.

The group one shot out of the lead included 2010 winner Jim Furyk (67) and Ben Kohles (69), the Virginia grad who last summer went from college to two straight wins on the Web.com Tour to earn a spot on the PGA TOUR.

Defending champion Luke Donald had a 67 and was only two shots behind at 4-under 209, along with 19-year-old Jordan Spieth of Texas, who is coming off a runner-up finish at the Puerto Rico Open presented by seepuertorico.com and can be set for the year on the PGA TOUR the rest of the year depending on how he plays Sunday.

He looks as if he's good enough to win.

The group at 3 under included Harris English, in a tie for the lead on the front nine until he stumbled to a 73, and Sergio Garcia, who never looked happy and sounded even worse on his way to a 72.

English is among 12 players from the top 16 who are not yet eligible for the Masters, and a win on Sunday would take care of that.

Leonard has gone 122 starts on the PGA TOUR over nearly five years since his last win, though he felt comfortable in the lead for the final few hours of the third round. Innisbrook requires more smarts than just smashing the ball off the tee, and Leonard used the ninth hole as an example of thinking his way around. Realizing the pin was not tucked on the side, he laid back off the tee with a 3-wood, and then hit 6-iron into 10 feet for a birdie.

He also got up-and-down from a front bunker on the 11th, and then hit 6-iron to 8 feet on the 12th. His only regret was missing a 5-foot birdie on the 17th that would have given him the outright lead. Not that it would have mattered all that much.

There's a good chance he won't even be among the leaders when he tees off.

Spieth, meanwhile, is in a great spot -- and not just on the leaderboard.

He had no status this year after turning pro, but he had two good finishes on the Web.com Tour that has left him about $4,500 short of securing status. He was thinking about sticking with the Web.com Tour until deciding to honor the exemption he was given to the Puerto Rico Open, and that worked out well.

"My focus had been on the Web.com," he said. "Now my focus is out there. It's a nice change."

But he's thinking more about the top of the leaderboard than how much money he needs to earn this week, and he has just as good of a chance as anyone. Spieth showed his shot making with a 6-iron out of the trees that led to 12-foot birdie on the 16th.

"That wasn't a smart shot," he said with a smile.

Coetzee is part of a group of young South Africans who have worked their way into the top 50 in the world, and he'll make his Masters debut next month. The best part about a chance to win is getting his PGA TOUR card.

He was flirting with the cut line with nine holes to play Friday until a 32 on the back nine, and then a solid round today. Coetzee is still finding his way in America, uncertain about the courses and not knowing the faces that go with the names.

"Golf is golf," he said. "Doesn't matter where you play, everybody still gets to the golf course, and nobody knows what's going to happen."

That could be especially true Sunday.

Copperhead course at Innisbrook
Easiest hole Toughest hole

The par-5 first was the easiest with a Saturday scoring average of 4.623.
Eagles: 0 | Birdies: 34 | Pars: 38 | Bogeys: 5 | Others: 0

The par-5 fifth was the toughest with a Saturday scoring average of 5.364.
Eagles: 0 | Birdies: 5 | Pars: 45 | Bogeys: 22 | Others: 5


About the leaders: Streelman, Leonard, Coetzee
• Kevin Streelman finished T10 in Tampa Bay last year, missed the cut in 2009 and finished 79th in 2008. Interestingly, Streelman holds the dubious distinction of posting the highest 18-hole score after the cut in this event. In the third round of 2008, his rookie year, he posted a 13-over 84.
• Streelman is making his 153rd start on the PGA TOUR this week, still in search of his first win. He has previously finished T3 on three different occasions.
• Streelman is making his eighth start of the season this week, with his lone top-10 finish being a T10 at the Humana Challenge. Streelman is coming off a missed cut at last week’s Puerto Rico Open.
• Not reflected by his score was an errant day off the tee for Streelman, who hit just 8/13 fairways (61.5%). While he’s regressed statistically each day off the tee, he has improved in each round by two strokes on the putting surface. In round one, he needed 29 putts, which he followed with 27 on Friday. In round three, that number dropped again by two to 25.
• The last time Streelman held at least a share of a lead after a round was after 54 holes of the 2010 Puerto Rico Open (finished T3).
• Justin Leonard is in search of his 13th career PGA TOUR win and first since the 2008 FedEx St. Jude Classic, a span of 122 events (since the 2008 victory).
• Leonard is making his eighth start of the season this week, and while he has missed only one cut (The Honda Classic), he has managed no finish better than T32 (Waste Management Phoenix Open).
• Leonard is playing on TOUR this year by virtue of the “Top 25 on the PGA TOUR career money list” category.
• Leonard is making his ninth start in the Tampa Bay Championship, with his only missed cut coming in 2007. Of the other starts, he has finished inside the top 30 each year with the exception of a T38 in 2004.
• Taking advantage of a sponsor exemption, George Coetzee remains poised to claim his first PGA TOUR title on Sunday. Currently ranked 42nd in the World Golf Rankings, the South African is a member of the European Tour and is also a four-time winner on the Sunshine Tour. So far this year, Coetzee has claimed three top-10 finishes on the European Tour this year, including a T2 at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, a T3 at the Joburg Open and a T9 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
• Coetzee is making his third start of the season on the PGA TOUR this week and eighth overall. This season he has finished T33 and T53 at the WGC-Accenture match Play Championship and WGC-Cadillac Championship, respectively.