Monday, May 21, 2018

Three-way tie at Tampa Bay Championship

PALM HARBOR — At the start of Saturday's third round of the Tampa Bay Championship, a mix of grizzled veterans and PGA Tour newcomers topped the leaderboard. By the end that remained the case, but they were different players.

Justin Leonard, Kevin Streelman and George Coetzee grinded their way around Innis­brook's Copperhead Course to grab the third round lead at 6-under 207. Streelman shot the round of the day, 6-under 65, that vaulted him from even to tied for the lead. Leonard shot 67 and Coetzee 68.

Just one shot back were Tag Ridings, Greg Chalmers, Ben Kohles and 2010 champion Jim Furyk. There were 13 players within three shots of the lead.

One of those was first- and second-round leader Shawn Stefani, who shot an underwhelming 74 but still was contending at 4 under. Adam Scott and K.J. Choi, tied for second to start the day, each shot 76 to fall to a tie for 21st at 1 under.

Saturday's leading score was one shot off Stefani's first two-round total of 7 under.

The leaders have differing resumes. Leonard is a 13-time PGA Tour winner, including the 1997 British Open and the '98 Players Championship. But he hasn't won since 2008. He most recently held at least the share of a lead at the 2011 Children's Miracle Network Classic, and his best finish this season was a tie for 32nd at the Phoenix Open.

"Today I felt very comfortable out there," said Leonard, who hit all 13 fairways and made only one bogey. "I know it's just Saturday, but I'm also near the lead, and it's a familiar feeling. It's been a while, but I've been there. There weren't any surprises out there."

Streelman would be considered a PGA Tour grinder. In his sixth season, he has played 152 tournaments without a win. He has tied for third three times on tour and tied for 10th here last year.

Streelman had a bogey-free round Saturday and was especially good on the back nine. He birdied the 10th, 11th, 13th and 17th holes to jump up the leader­board. In his first two rounds, he had nine bogeys and nine birdies.

"I wanted to get to 6 under today, that number was in my mind," Streelman said. "That would give me a chance for (today).

"I'm going to stay aggressive. I'm not going to play just to try to make pars and not win a golf tournament. I've done that before where I had a two-shot lead in the last round and played not to lose and ended up losing it. I'm going to stick to what I'm doing."

Then there is Coetzee, a South African and a member of the European Tour. Ranked 42nd, he has played sparingly in the United States. He is in the field this week thanks to a sponsor's exemption.

Coetzee played only nine holes at Copperhead before Thursday's first round. He birdied his final three holes Friday and kept up the momentum Saturday. His third round featured one bogey and four birdies.

"I'm new to this PGA Tour thing," Coetzee said. "I'm trying to play as much as possible and get used to the scene. Luckily enough I made the cut. Everything fell into place pretty well today."

Furyk, who lost in a playoff to Luke Donald last year, is again hanging right off the pace. He got into contention with a steady 4-under 67.

"I hit the ball well and got a lot more out of my round," said Furyk, the 2010 tour player of the year. "I saw some putts go in. I got the ball up and down when I needed to. It's good to get some confidence and put myself in contention."

Leonard plays with Streelman today and said he is looking forward to being in the final group.

"I get to sleep in for a change," he said.