Leonard in front, going for second Hope Classic title
PALM DESERT, Calif. (AP) Justin Leonard fell into the common golf trap of thinking too much and tinkering with his game before he finally snapped out of it last summer.
Having regained his confidence and his game, Leonard has played extremely well this week in the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, with his 6-under 66 Saturday good for a four-shot lead in the event he won in 2005.
Asked about his steady play and accurate ball-striking during the first four rounds, he said, "Yeah, it's because I don't have a lot of conscious thoughts going on right now with my golf game.
"I know I'm not going to hit every shot perfect or the way I want to, but I know I'm going to hit a good number of them that way; not perfect, but the way I want to."
Leonard went to 23-under 265 through 72 holes of the five-day Hope.
Anthony Kim (66), Kenny Perry (66), D.J. Trahan (70) and Robert Gamez (71) were tied for second at 19 under.
Former British Open champion Leonard said he wants to be steady again over the final 18 holes.
"I think that's my real challenge, to just go out and play with the same confidence and attitude and demeanor that I've played with the last four days," he said.
The first four rounds of the Hope are a pro-am played over four different courses. The low-scoring 70 pros and ties play the final round at the Classic Club.
Leonard began the fourth round in a second-place tie with Trahan, one shot back of Gamez. Leonard moved in front when he rolled in a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 13 to reach 20 under.
He hit a 4-wood from 247 yards to within 6 feet on the 561-yard par-5 14th and made that putt to widen his lead to three shots. He capped his day at the Classic Club with a 1-foot birdie putt on No. 18.
Gamez also played at the Classic Club. Kim was at La Quinta Country Club, and Trahan and Perry at PGA West.
Leonard took the Hope title in 2005 with a closing 67 to finish at 25-under 335, good for a three-shot victory over Tim Clark and Joe Ogilvie.
The 22-year-old Kim, beginning his second full year on the tour, said Leonard's lead is imposing, but not impossible to overcome.
"Four shots is a lot of shots. You never know what can happen, though," Kim said. "Hopefully my game will be sharp and the birdies will come. I need to play well on the front nine and make some birdies on those holes.
"If I get off to that kind of start, I'll be ready to go."
Kim said he is a friend and admirer of Leonard's, and Leonard thinks highly of him, too.
"I know a lot about Anthony and I love his game," Leonard said. "I like the things that he's doing off the course. He's got an unbelievable future."
While this year's tournament is missing the top 23 players in the world rankings, Leonard's name atop the leaderboard provides some star power. He has won 11 times on the tour, including the 1997 British Open.
The 35-year-old former University of Texas standout won the Texas Open last year for his most recent victory. He's coming off a tie for eighth in the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Among those missing the cut, with scores of 282 and higher out, was Daniel Chopra at 284. He won the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship. David Duval, whose tour record-tying 59 on the final day gave him the 1999 Hope title, missed the cut by 16 shots this time. He shot 73-77-73-74. ... Leonard's first four rounds didn't vary much, as he had cards of 68-64-67-66. ... Gamez said of his day: "I got my bad round out of the way, for sure. If you're going to have a bad round, 71 is not that bad. In this tournament it is, but luckily I had the lead starting, so I could get away with one."