Saturday, June 23, 2018

Tampa Bay Championship leaders fall off pace

PALM HARBOR — Friday's leaders became Saturday's afterthoughts at the Tampa Bay Championship.

The top three entering the third round — Shawn Stefani, Adam Scott and K.J. Choi — shot a combined 13 over on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course on Saturday.

Only Stefani, at 7 under and leading by a stroke entering Round 3, stayed in reasonable striking range of the leaders.

Stefani had four bogeys and no birdies through the front nine but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 12 and 14.

"As far as the leaders go, the last couple groups, nobody really played great," said Stefani, two strokes behind the three co-leaders at 4 under after 3-over 74. "There wasn't a lot of mojo for the last couple groups of the day."

Scott, Stefani's partner in the final group, limped in with seven bogeys. He shot 5-over 76 and fell from a second-place tie into a tie for 21st at 1 under. Choi (76), the 2002 and '06 champion at Innisbrook, had five bogeys and zero birdies, and also was at 1 under.

Stefani, whose best position after any round on the PGA Tour entering this tournament had been a tie for 22nd after the second round of January's Sony Open, was looking forward to today's round away from the spotlight.

"I was a little bit uncomfortable starting out, but I had fun all day," Stefani said. "There wasn't one moment where I wasn't smiling or having a good time, and that was kind of the objective for the day."

Ex-champs lurk: Defending champion Luke Donald moved back in contention after his bogey-free 4-under 67 put him 4 under for the tournament.

"It was nice to go around this course and not make a mistake, not drop a shot," Donald said. "I wanted to shoot 5 or 6 under. I nearly got there — a couple lipped putts and didn't birdie any of the par 5s. It could have been a really low round (Saturday)."

Donald recovered from an unlucky bounce on the opening hole. His second shot on the 560-yard par 5 hit a sprinkler and bounced 40 yards left off the edge of the green. "I lost a shot there, probably," he said.

On No. 15, Donald drained a 39-foot putt from the fringe for his fourth and final birdie. "Every week, you need things like that to happen to kind of get you in the mix and have a chance to win," Donald said.

Jim Furyk, the 2010 champion, started the round 1 under and mixed six birdies with two bogeys to shoot 67 and land a shot off the lead. "I feel like I know how to get around this golf course," said Furyk, who lost to Donald last year in a playoff.

Youth over experience: Jordan Spieth, 19, is the youngest competitor at the Tampa Bay Championship. He was also at 4 under through three rounds after 69.

Spieth, who turned pro in December after his freshman season at Texas, was granted an automatic entry after tying for second last week at the Puerto Rico Open and earning $308,000.

"This is a new experience, obviously, being a pro and being in contention," Spieth said. "I feel good and (today) hopefully post a few under and see how it comes in."

Right pick: Tournament director Kevin Krisle had four sponsor's exemptions to offer. One went to John Daly, one to Camilo Villegas and one to Patrick Cantlay, all of whom missed the cut.

The fourth was reserved for a European player who had no PGA status. After days of weighing 60 requests, Krisle picked George Coetzee of South Africa. Coetzee was tied for the lead after three rounds after 68.

"I never judge a sponsor's pick by how they play," Krisle said. "It's never an easy decision. Every one of them is qualified. It's the worst part of the job, actually. I've got to tell people that they can't play, and it's much harder than telling the one player that he can play."

Chip-ins: Furyk seeks his 17th PGA Tour victory and first since the 2010 Tour Championship. … Donald, Kevin Streelman and Roberto Castro were the only golfers to go bogey-free.

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