Levin must overcome course, field, himself to win Sunday

June 02, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Spencer Levin doesn't know how to answer the question yet. He'd like nothing better than to find out on Sunday, though.


Levin hopes he can stay as patient at Muirfield Village as he became rushed at TPC Scottsdale that Sunday in Feburary when he squandered a six-stroke lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He wants to continue to have fun like he did on Saturday at the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance, smiling and high-fiving the fans waiting for autographs as he walked to the scorer's hut behind the 18th green.

Most of all, though, Levin wants to win.

Whether the lessons the fidgety Californian learned in Phoenix pay off on another blustery Sunday at the Memorial Tournament remains to be seen. But he witnessed first-hand Kyle Stanley's redemptive win that afternoon in the desert so he knows it can be done.

This time Levin, who stands 8 under after a third-round 69 that tied for the lowest on a windswept day, only leads by one shot over Rory Sabbatini, a six-time PGA TOUR champ on the comeback trail. Rickie Fowler, who has top-10 finishes in his last four starts, is three behind and Tiger Woods, a four-time Memorial champ who knows this lush layout better than anyone outside its designer, Jack Nicklaus, trails by four.

"No doubt I left a few out there," Woods said. "But four shots is definitely manageable around this golf course, considering the conditions. ... A lot of guys are still in this ballgame. It'll be an exciting day tomorrow."

So the challenge admittedly is great and Muirfield Village is getting stingier as the week progresses, playing to an average of 74.324 on Saturday. But Levin, who joked earlier in the week that he sometimes goes as long as 15 or 20 minutes without thinking about that exercise in futility in February, knows instinctively that he is a better player because of that disappointment.

"I did learn that I still got to play golf, I still got to eat the same stuff, still have the same friends, still have the same family, so nothing really changed," Levin said. "Obviously you want to win when you're in position, but I'm just going to go out there tomorrow and have fun. Nothing really changed in my life, and I don't think anything will change that big in my life if I do win. It's just going out there and try and do my best.

Projected points
The race for spots in the PGA TOUR Playoffs for the FedExCup continues this week. Click to see who's making moves in Ohio. Projections

"It's all the practice and work from being a kid, starting to play golf up until this point, this is what I've dreamed of is to be in the lead of a tournament, especially Jack's tournament. ... All those years and all that work and practice is going to come down to tomorrow, and I'm just really fired up about it, I am."

Woods is trying to win for the second time in five starts, although the three since his victory at Bay Hill, which broke a 30-month victory drought, were hardly anything to write home about with one missed cut and two ties for 40th. But he has a final-round scoring average of 68.18 at Muirfield Village and with the exception of a 39 on the final nine holes Saturday, Woods has displayed a consistency that had been lacking of late.

Adding more intrigue to Sunday's final round is the fact that Woods would tie Nicklaus for career victories should he come from behind as he has done in two of his four Memorial wins and take his 73rd title. Of course, the quest to overtake the Golden Bear's 18 majors is on hold for another couple weeks until the U.S. Open comes to the Olympic Club -- but a win Sunday would do wonders for Woods' psyche as he heads to the California coast.

"I feel really good the way I am hitting the golf ball," Woods said. "The things we've been working on the last few tournaments I'm finally starting to do. This is the way I know I'm capable of hitting the golf ball. The beauty of it is I've been missing the golf ball in the correct spots, and that's when I know I have control of my game is that you're not going to hit every shot perfect, but at least I miss it on the correct sides."

Tee to green, Woods has been extremely solid. He leads the field in greens in regulation but on Saturday his putter ran cold. Woods made a 21-footer on the first hole but then converted nothing longer than 6 feet the rest of the way, and took 18 of his 32 putts on the back nine.

"I had a difficult time adjusting to the pace today," Woods said. "I know they're faster than what they were yesterday. But they just didn't look that fast, and I ran a couple putts by, also left a few short. And also I was trying to stay steady in this wind, which is a task in itself, too. I did the best I could today."

Sabbatini and Levin will play together for the second straight day with Woods again in the penultimate group, this time alongside the red-hot Fowler in the final round. The feisty South African, who proved particularly resilient on Saturday as he chases his first top-10 since the season-opener in Hawaii, sees a lot of himself in his playing partner.

Interview: Spencer Levin

Following his third-round 69, Spencer Levin reflects on his play with Fred Albers from SiriusXM PGATOUR Radio.

"We do wear our emotions on our sleeve, and we are competitors," Sabbatini acknowledged. "Obviously we've seen over the past 18 months he's been performing very well, and it's just a compliment to his game. He struck the ball well out there today, hit a lot of good golf shots, and a couple times didn't get rewarded. But that's the way golf is, so you've got to go out there and just ultimately play 18 holes, sign your scorecard and that's what you've got."

Fowler, who grew up in California like Levin, picked up his first PGA TOUR victory in Charlotte last month. At Quail Hollow that Sunday, where Fowler beat Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points in a playoff, the colorful 23-year-old was able to stay in the moment like Levin didn't in February in the desert. He has no doubt, though, that Levin learned from his mistakes.

"He makes it about as simple as possible," Fowler said. "He drives it well, which around here you've got to play from the fairway, especially when it's windy. And he's fiery. I like it. He's a lot of fun to be around, a lot of fun to play with. He gets himself in a position tomorrow that if he goes out and plays his game, he's going to be tough to catch. We're going to have to post a number."

What that number is remains to be seen. The wind on Saturday that followed Friday night's drenching rains dried out the already fiery greens and similar conditions are expected on Sunday.

"The winning score may not change from what it's at right now, or it may go higher, may go lower," Woods said. "We don't know. That's the hard part about this golf course is there's so many demanding holes that anything can happen."

And it probably will.