Levin in not-quite unfamiliar spot heading into Sunday

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Spencer Levin is hoping to pick up his first PGA TOUR win at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
February 04, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Spencer Levin has never taken any lead into the final round of a PGA TOUR event. Much less, one that's as formidable as the six-stroke advantage he owns after 54 holes of the Waste Management Phoenix Open.


Given what happened last Sunday to Kyle Stanley, who started the day up by five, squandered a three-stroke lead on the final hole of the Farmers Insurance Open and ended up losing in a playoff, Levin might understandably have cause for concern.

But the 27-year-old Californian got a valuable test run on Saturday when he not only handled the pressure of being the frontrunner, Levin also managed to lengthen his lead. And in front of a raucous and record crowd of 173,210 at TPC Scottsdale, no less.

"It felt different," Levin acknowledged when asked about playing with the big lead. "I tried not to think about it. I knew I was just trying to focus on my game and my ball, and it worked out good today. I tried as hard as I could just to do what I did the first two days, and that's what I'm going to do tomorrow, too."

Levin will be seeking his first win on the PGA TOUR on Sunday, not unlike Stanley was a week ago at Torrey Pines. Levin, who had shared the first-round lead with Stanley but failed to break par over the next three rounds, was watching the gut-wrenching final moments on TV at a friend's house in San Diego. He saw Stanley's third shot suck back into the water at the 72nd hole and the painful three-putt for the 8.

"It looked to me like he played the hole solid, he just got a bad break on the third shot, and I'm sure after that it was probably a tough feeling," Levin said. "But it didn't look like he played the hole bad; it looked like he played it the way he wanted to. Just a tough break for him.

"All you can do is just try and do your best. ... If you can focus on yourself and just try to do the best you can, that's all you can really do."

Levin -- who was in such a zone after he finished Saturday that he had to ask a media official how large his lead actually was -- applied that approach from the get-go this week at TPC Scottsdale. But Levin had to find a way to regain that focus after he came out battling his swing on Thursday and was so frustrated by an opening bogey he recalls telling his caddy that "this might be a nine-hole week."

A trio of birdies before Levin made the turn on Thursday, though, got things headed in the right direction again. He's hit just 24 of 42 fairways in the first three rounds but he leads the field in greens in regulation and ranks 13th in putting.

"If somebody told me I had a six-shot lead after that first hole on Thursday, I would have laughed at them," Levin said. "But it's pretty crazy. It feels pretty good, and hopefully I can just keep playing well."

But with its reachable par 5s and the driveable 17th, to name a few areas of generosity, TPC Scottsdale is a risk-reward proposition that can yield a low round. Three players, including Phil Mickelson who is tied for 10th at 8 under, have shot 60s here. There have been six 61s, too, and Levin himself has the week's low of 63 so he knows it can be done.

At the same time, there's a lake that buffets the 11th, 12th and 15th holes. That's where Levin rinsed his tee shot on the way to his lone bogey at No. 15 Saturday afternoon. And Webb Simpson, who is Levin's nearest challenger, had pulled to within four shots until he sent his chip at the 17th skidding across the green and into another pond.

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"I need to make some birdies and get into position where if I light it up the back nine I can catch him," said Mickelson, who has won twice at TPC Scottsdale. "... You never know what might happen. This is a golf course that's very penalizing if you miss it just a slight bit.

"The rough is very thick and tough to recover. You've got fairways that are pitching into the water, and if you start missing it a little bit, there's a lot of bogeys and doubles and guys can back up. The key is just to try to get myself in position in case that happens."

Simpson, who won twice last year and finished second in both the FedExCup and money list, knows he'll need to put pressure on Levin early Sunday. He's not completely happy with the way he's been hitting the ball, although his last three holes were a confidence builder despite the "bummer" of a bogey at No. 17.

"We're just going to see how things are going I think starting out, see how I'm swinging," Simpson said. "It's hard to be aggressive when you're not swinging well. If we can go figure something out on the range and I'm feeling good, then we'll be firing at pins and trying to win this thing."

So Levin knows he can't afford to be complacent on Sunday. At the same time, he knows he's in a great place -- literally as well as figurative. Not only does he have a six-stroke lead, Levin loves the excitement and exuberance of the record crowds who have turned out to cheer him on.

"I guess maybe that's why I'm feeling good," Levin said. "... I feel relaxed, actually, when everybody is yelling and screaming. It just kind of makes me not think so much about my swing and all that. I feel the moment and hopefully the crowd is on my side and hopefully I can build up that. ... Hopefully I can just stay calm, try my best and keep having fun.

"That's all I'm going to do, and we'll see what happens."