Saunders holding perfect opportunity at the Barracuda ChampionshipThe 31-year-old sits in solo second entering the final round
August 04, 2018
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
Sam Saunders’ clutch eagle putt at Barracuda
RENO, Nev. – Sam Saunders, making his 122nd start on the PGA TOUR, remains in search of his first win. It’s been more than three years since his closest call, a playoff loss in Puerto Rico in 2015. He’ll now enter Sunday’s final round of the Barracuda Championship in the final twosome with a golden opportunity to break through.
Some players in that position may want to narrow their focus, concentrate simply on staying in the moment and avoid looking at the big picture.
Saunders, who’ll start the day in solo second, is not one of those players.
“I’m going to be thinking about it all day tomorrow,” he said after a 12-point third round (under the Modified Stableford system) highlighted by two eagles in his final six holes.
A year ago at Montreux, Chris Stroud won his first TOUR event in his 290th start. The year before, Greg Chalmers won after 386 starts. Barracuda has become a dream event for players seeking that first win. Saunders is not the only who’ll be chasing that dream Sunday.
Andrew Putnam is the 54-hole leader with 38 points. He and Saunders were paired in the third round, and they’ll be paired again Sunday, with Putnam three points in front of his playing partner.
Putnam is in just his second full year on TOUR, and has played well this season, with four top-10 finishes and a current ranking of 55th in the FedExCup standings. As for TOUR wins, though, he’s 0-for-48 entering this week. He was in position to break that drought at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, tying with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for the 54-hole lead. Putnam stumbled to a final-round 72 while Johnson won with a 66. Consider it a lesson learned.
“That will be important, having that experience,” Putnam said. “Obviously this is a little different format, so the strategy has to be stay aggressive and make as many points as possible.”
J.J. Spaun and John Oda, each with 29 points, are in the third-to-last group. Spaun has 53 TOUR starts without a win. Oda, a Monday qualifier who played at UNLV, is without status and making just his ninth TOUR start.
Spaun, currently 53rd in FedExCup points, said he’s getting antsy to break through.
“I feel like I’ve been playing pretty solid this year,” he explained. “I’ve had a lot of high finishes and stuff, so it would be nice to get that win before the season ends.”
The penultimate group does include two players who already have TOUR success. But Chad Campbell’s last victory was 11 years ago; this is his 297th start since then. He hasn’t even had a top-3 finish since 2012. On Saturday, he went out and tied a tournament single-round record with 22 points to move into the mix. He’ll start the final round in solo third, just six points off the pace.
“I came out yesterday afternoon and kind of felt like I found a little something to go with, so it worked today,” Campbell said. “But who knows, golf is crazy, so it might not work tomorrow. You never know. Hopefully it will.”
Three years ago this week, Shane Lowry won the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, his first TOUR win. Unlike the other five guys on the leaderboard, he got a quick taste of success, having won the Irish Open as an amateur on the European Tour in 2009.
That doesn’t make him any less hungry going into Sunday.
“Look, we’re all decent golfers,” said the Irishman. “I think anyone going out tomorrow within a certain score of the lead, no matter what they’re doing, everyone is the same. It’s hard to win whether you won before or whether you haven’t won.”
The only thing for sure is that someone will win tomorrow. Saunders, for one, has no plans to hold back in a format that rewards aggressive play.
“If I had 15 wins, I’d still be wanting and thinking about winning all day tomorrow,” he said. “Yeah, maybe it’s hard when it’s your first. We’ll see. … All I can do is play my best golf and have a good attitude out there.
“If it works out, great. I’m going to be going for it on every hole, though.”
J.J. Spaun sinks 24-foot birdie putt at Barracuda
Andrew Putnam’s family is in town and they’ll staying in Sun Valley just north of Reno. Putnam is calling it a “vacation week.” He added, “It’s as good as it gets looking at the lake. I’m just kind of taking the relaxed attitude of just enjoying everything that Reno has.” That relaxed attitude on Saturday included eight birdies and produced 15 points.
Chad Campbell had eight birdies and an eagle for 21 points in his first 13 holes. That put him on 26-point watch – or, if you prefer the traditional approach, 59 watch. But Campbell, whose career-low score is a 61, said that number never entered his mind. “In this format, you really don’t know how many under par you are or anything like that,” Campbell said. “I was just trying to get as many as I can.” After his eagle on the par-5 13th, he lost a point with a bogey on the next hole, then finished with three pars but a birdie at 18 gave him 22 points, tying Kyle Reifers’ tournament single-round record since the Barracuda began using the Modified Stableford system.
John Oda played collegiately at UNLV. Until this week, he had never been to Reno, which is approximately 440 miles northwest of Las Vegas. “I stay away from up here because it’s rival territory,” Oda said, before adding. “I’m kidding.” This week also marks his first time playing in a Stableford-system tournament, and being from Hawaiian, he doesn’t have a lot of experience playing at altitude. “Lot of firsts this week,” he said.
Defending champion Chris Stroud moved into contention with his best round of the week. His 13 points (eight birdies against one double bogey) matched his total of the first two rounds. He’ll start Sunday 12 points off the pace. In the 20-year history of the Barracuda Championship, just one champ has successfully defended – Vaughn Taylor in 2005.
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Shane Lowry's solid approach yields 1-foot birdie for Shot of the Day
QUOTABLESI pulled it a little bit, but sometimes you get lucky.It'll be good to put up a number tomorrow and let them see it.
Low round: Chad Campbell’s record-tying 22 points.
Longest drive: Ollie Schniederjans’s 447-yard drive on the par-5 18th hole, which is the longest drive of the week (Kevin Tway had a 413-yard drive on Saturday, also on the 18th hole). Unfortunately for Schneiderjans, he three-putted the 18th from 35-1/2 feet for par.
Longest putt: Hunter Mahan’s putt from 71 feet, 6 inches for birdie at the par-4 sixth.
Hardest hole: The 230-yard par-3 16th played to a stroke average of 3.521. Just one birdie was made there Saturday, by Michael Thompson.
Easiest hole: The 638-yard par-5 eighth played to a stroke average of 4.575. The field made 32 birdies and one eagle – also by Michael Thompson, who had a 13-point round Saturday and is now at 26 points for the tournament.