Bevy of Fearless Contenders Could Cause Fireworks Sunday at Valspar
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- The final round of the Valspar Championship is going to be a horse race, a cat fight, a logjam or some combination thereof. A horse fight. A cat jam. Nahh, don’t write that.
Sunday’s final round is going to be close, in other words. Thank you, Captain Obvious. Yeah, it’s shaping up to be a good, old-fashioned cat jam. That’s definitely not catching on, pal, and you’re making less sense as you go.
Well, there’s a light at the end of this tunnel, and it’s probably not an oncoming locomotive. Thanks for not saying cat jam again, clown.
At one point Saturday afternoon, there was an eight-way tie for first and a seven-way tie for second place, which was actually ninth place, of course, because of all those bodies sharing first. At least you didn’t try to sneak log fight in here. Still not funny.
The Valspar has a leader and finally, it’s not a plural noun. You might be plural soon if you keep wolfing down pressroom candy snacks, pal.
Ryan Moore, a Washington native who grew up in Puyallup, is on top after a 67. There are eight more players within five shots. That’s a veritable posse, sure, but nothing like the freeway traffic jam earlier in the afternoon. It might resemble Hwy. 19 outside the resort gates here, though. There were so many fans on the grounds Saturday and there’s so many tourists down here now that there couldn’t have been anybody left to turn out in the lights in Canada when they came south for the winter.
Jordan Spieth is second. He’s America’s official Boy Wonder of golf. It’s a good thing Robin’s tiny green tights are out of fashion.
Matt Kuchar was a Boy Wonder, too, once upon a time. Now he’s the Tour’s Mr. Consistent and he’s tied for fifth. You can’t keep him out of the top ten any easier than you can wipe that grin off his face.
Derek Ernst is third, Sean O’Hair is fourth and Henrik Stenson, one of the world’s best players, is tied for fifth with Kuchar and Patrick Reed. That last threesome is strong, the kind of talent usually reserved for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Put that in, man, the boss loves it when you promote company product.
All right, you can probably stop Sunday preview countdown there but you shouldn’t. Really, you just can’t ignore 53-year-old Vijay Singh, a three-time major winner who defies the laws of aging. He shares eighth with Daniel Summerhays, and you’d like Singh’s chances better if he didn’t have to climb past Stenson, Kuchar, Reed and Spieth to catch the leader. In my old bowling league, they used to say, No hill for a stepper. Still don’t know what it means.
So here’s your unofficial tout sheet for Sunday’s tiptoe through the Snake Pit, in order of those most likely to win:
Ryan Moore. Your leader, probably because he didn’t bogey Saturday. Also because after opening with 12 pars in a row, he lit up the last six holes for four birdies and a 67. At 32, he’s finally hitting his stride with three wins in the last four years, including back to back CIMB Classic wins in Malaysia. And he’s producing better on the weekend than he ever has. “On Tour, there’s always someone behind you who’s ready to shoot five or six under and chase you down,” Moore said. The favorite.
Jordan Spieth. So much is expected of the 21-year-old that NBC’s Dan Hicks called him a "superstar" during Saturday’s telecast, even though Spieth has one win on the PGA Tour and one win in Australia. Premature, perhaps, but everyone sees that potential in him. Spieth hit only 11 greens in regulation in the third round but he got up and down like a cat burglar to post 68. The greens he did hit Saturday, he ranked second in proximity. Four birdies eased him into second. If he can keep his cool and stay out of his own way, he’s tough. He ranks among the better putters on Tour. The top contender.
Patrick Reed. Look, this guy is a ruthless birdie machine who hasn’t seen a shot he’s afraid to try. He birdied three of the last six for 68, he won at Doral last year and in Hawaii this year and he showed his toughness at the Ryder Cup. He caught some flak after that Doral win when he said he thought he was a top-5 in the world player but before long, he’s going to prove himself right. Not a guy you want in your rear-view mirror. Serious challenger.
Henrik Stenson. The Swede is No. 3 in the world, the highest ranked player in the field. He’s four back, yes, but did you see that shot off a bad lie in the rough to pin high at the 18th green, 12 feet away from the cup? Wow. Too bad he missed the putt, that stroke could come into play Sunday, but he’s got the firepower to make a run. Serious challenger the sequel.
Derek Ernst. He came out of nowhere, also known as the Web.com Tour, to win in Charlotte a few years back and he can play. He’s made 14 birdies and an eagle in three rounds at a course where pars are dear. He’s also piled up nine bogeys, but every time he slips -- like back-to-back bogeys at the third and fourth holes -- he bounces back. Don’t count him out. The wild card.
Matt Kuchar. You’d rank Smiling Matt right up there with Spieth and Luke Donald as the best bunker players on Tour and Kooch is a great all-around short-gamer. He birdied the 18th to get himself within four and earn a fighting chance. He’s won a Players, played in Ryder Cups, he knows how to deal in a final round. Savvy veteran.
Sean O’Hair. He was the kid who turned pro early, if not too soon, but played his way onto the Tour and became a winner. Then his game fell apart and now, after a couple of years away from the spotlight and a new instructor, he’s trying to play his way back to golf’s upper echelon. He birdied two of the last three (seriously, 16 and 18 are not birdie holes for anyone) to ease himself into the picture. Can he get it done again when it matters? The underdog.
Vijay Singh. The man who has played four Champions Tour events closed with nine straight pars. He’s got a lot of players to pass and a lot of strokes to make up, especially considering that among the top ten players on the leaderboard, their third-round scores were all within four shots of each other. That and the Copperhead Course’s allergy to birdies makes shooting low problematical. The long shot.
The rest of the field. Good luck, gents. The Hail Mary guys.