Merritt's mindset: 'Make them come get me'
He holds a three-shot lead at the RBC Heritage with the TOUR’s top talent right on his heels
April 18, 2015
By Robert Gillespie, Special to PGATOUR.COM
- April 18, 2015
- Troy Merritt’s best PGA TOUR finish was a solo second that came last season at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. (Tyler Lecka/Getty Images)
HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Troy Merritt had opportunities to put some distance between himself and the rest of the RBC Heritage field – and one ugly chance to fade out of the championship picture.
Instead, the pro from Boise righted himself after a potentially crippling double bogey at Harbour Town’s rugged eighth hole, answering with a couple of birdies for a 2-under 69 that left him, at 14-under, with three shots of his starting four-shot lead intact.
Also intact is the whimsical approach he demonstrated Friday after his record-tying 61 plopped him in front of the field. If Merritt is feeling the heat of being the leader, he’s not showing it.
Here’s how he described that double bogey, courtesy of a pulled approach shot into the left-side water hazard: “I had a little bit of a tug with a 6-iron, and unfortunately watched it splash in the water,” Merritt said. “But it was a spectacular splash. I enjoyed that. ... I ground out a six-footer (putt) for double. You don’t want to walk off that hole making 7, when you’re playing pretty solid.”
That lone faux pas aside, Merritt is playing very solidly. He had already birdied 2 and 3, and rebounded immediately with a birdie at 9. Another at the tricky par-3 14th enabled him to cruise home in the top spot.
And while the double bogey briefly shrank his lead to one shot, “at the time those guys (Brice Garnett and Branden Grace, then both in the clubhouse at 11-under) were finished. So they weren’t going to catch me today unless I came back to them again.”
Sunday, when the field of the RBC Heritage goes off starting at 7:30 a.m. and playing in threesomes off both tees, attempting to dodge threatening weather, Merritt will have a crowded pack right on his heels. Behind him will be six players – including defending champion Matt Kuchar, tied for second at 11-under, and former RBC Heritage winner Jim Furyk (10-under) – within four shots.
Another nine players, led by reigning Masters champion Jordan Spieth at 9-under, are five or six shots back, on a Harbour Town Golf Links that through 54 holes has shown itself susceptible to surrendering low scores.
The trio closest to Merritt – Kuchar, Brendon Todd (whose 63 was the day’s low round) and Kevin Kisner – will have to choose between chasing aggressively, or else hoping that Merritt’s game cracks. “I’ll try to stick with the process,” said Kisner, who shot a 67 Saturday and could become the first South Carolina native (Aiken) to capture the state’s only PGA TOUR event.
“The kind of things I’ve been doing, and hopefully the results will come.
“Whatever happens, happens. If I keep playing like I’m doing, hopefully I’ll have a chance.”
The man with the best chance is looking forward to the experience, he said. “I think it will be nice playing in the final round (with Todd) this time around,” he said, referring to his previous best finish, a come-from-behind second at the FedEx St. Jude in 2014. “It will be nice to see what everybody else is doing, the guys closest to me.”
And then? “Just play solid golf,” Merritt said. “Put as much pressure on them as I can, make them try and take some risks, and just try and make pars, throw in an occasional birdie, and make them come and get me.”
Troy Merritt holds a three-shot lead after Round 3 at RBC Heritage
EXPECT AGGRESSIVE PLAY SUNDAY FROM SPIETH: Given that he’s been at the center of a near-hurricane amount of attention and bustle the past week, Jordan Spieth says he’ll be looking for a bit more tranquility Sunday when he attempts to add an RBC Heritage plaid blazer to that Green Jacket he won last week at Augusta National.
Spieth, who ranged the spectrum at Harbour Town Golf Links in the first two rounds – a 3-over 74 on Thursday followed by a near-record 62 on Friday – had what he termed “a normal Saturday” by shooting a 3-under par 68.
At five shots off the lead heading into the weather-adjusted final round, the 21-year-old Texan isn't exactly a favorite to catch leader Troy Merritt. However, he's hardly out of the picture given his recent track record (two wins, two runners-up in four events).
“Tomorrow I’ll be happy to be kind of in this quiet zone, coming from behind and hopefully making some noise” of his own, he said. “I’m going to be really aggressive. If it doesn’t work out ... then it was still a great stretch. And if I get out there and hit the shots that I want to hit, then I’ve got a possibility of contending again.”
His 68 Saturday, which fell exactly between his first two rounds scoring-wise, was a bit frustrating for Spieth, mostly due to a balky putter. Other than one 19-footer on the 11th hole, he said he never made a putt longer than four feet.
That kept him from making another charge – that, and a bogey on the par-4 first that he termed “a speed bump” but nothing he couldn’t handle. Spieth got that stroke back immediately on the par-5 second, and racked up three more birdies at Nos. 5, 11 and 15.
“(I) just didn’t quite have those putts go in like yesterday, and that was the difference,” he said. “But ultimately, no one went crazy low today,” with the exception of Brendon Todd, whose 63 got him into the trio tied for second at 11-under.
"Anything can happen on a course like this. And there are 8- and 9-under rounds out there You just have to have the right breaks."
Assuming he can fix a case of the “rights” with his driver, he said, “my short game is on right now. So it’s just going to be about hitting greens, getting myself into spots and adjust to the (greens’) speed early on.”
At stake is another history-making moment: only one Masters champion (Bernhard Langer, 1985) has ever won the RBC Heritage the following week. Of course, Spieth is used to making history now.
BEST SOCIAL MEDIA
CALL AND SHOT OF THE DAYBill Rosinski of PGA TOUR Radio calls Brendon Todd's chip-in birdie at No. 18 in Round 3 of RBC Heritage.
Free play-by-play coverage of the final round streams from 1-6 p.m. ET Sunday on PGATOUR.COM
Brendon Todd closes with a birdie chip-in to shoot a 63 at RBC Heritage
ROUND 3 STATS
Category Leader(s) Statistic Driving distance Jim Renner 312.0 yards Longest drive Jim Renner 348 yards Driving accuracy Brendon de Jonge 100 percent Strokes gained: tee-to-green Brendon Todd 4.449 Greens in regulation Webb Simpson 88.89 percent Scrambling
Robert Allenby, Luke Donald, Jim Furyk, Brice Garnett, Kevin Kisner, Jason Kokrak, Anirban Lahiri, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Brendon Todd, Bo Van Pelt
100 percent Strokes gained: putting Cameron Smith 3.357 Putts per round Bo Van Pelt 23 Longest putt Billy Horschel 49 feet, 8 inches Strokes gained: total Brendon Todd 6.763 Lowest round Brendon Todd 63 Total birdies Brendon Todd 8
ODDS AND ENDS
After only Jim Furyk went bogey-free in Thursday’s round, eight players accomplished that Friday and 10 on Saturday, led by Brendon Todd, who shot 63. The only player to finish bogey-free in two rounds: Furyk, who did it again Saturday en route to a 3-under 68 (after even-par 71 Thursday). ...
Saturday’s field stroke average of 69.763 was the third-lowest in RBC Heritage history, after Friday’s 69.641 and the 69.162 in the third round of the 2000 tournament. ...
Branden Grace of South Africa, tied for fifth, is the low international player through three rounds. If he wins Sunday, he would become the 11th international champion and the first since Graeme McDowell in 2013, and the first South African (Nick Price of Zimbabwe won in 1997).
Take a look at Saturday's best moments during third-round play of the RBC Heritage.