DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) – Matt Kuchar couldn’t think of conditions more difficult than Saturday in the Memorial, and he had plenty of evidence.
The swirling wind that made it difficult to pull the right club. Fast greens that led to 65 three-putts in the third round alone. And a 44 on the back nine for Tiger Woods, the highest nine-hole score of his professional career.
“I think most of us would tend to be surprised any time Tiger shoots a number like that, but a lot more understandable in these conditions,” Kuchar said after hanging on for a 2-under 70 that gave him a two-shot lead.
“If you’re not on good form, these conditions are really going to beat you up.”
Woods rallied on the front nine to salvage a 79, matching his second-worst score on the PGA Tour. And that wasn’t even the highest score on a tough day at Muirfield Village. Jordan Spieth shot 45 on the front nine for an 82, while Zach Johnson and Justin Hicks each had an 81.
Kevin Chappell matched the best round of the day with a 4-under 68, leaving him two shots out of the lead, along with Kyle Stanley, who had a 70. Chappell loves having a chance to win his first PGA Tour event, which isn’t to suggest it was fun getting to that position.
“I guess it’s like a prize fighter,” Chappell said. “He enjoys winning, but I don’t know if he enjoys getting hit that much.”
Kuchar was at 8-under 208, among 10 players separated by four shots.
“It was a bit of survival,” Kuchar said. “I was fortunate to make a handful of birdies. I think anytime you make a birdie in these conditions, you feel like you’re really up on the field here. Most of these holes, you’re looking at just getting out with a par.”
Woods didn’t get away with anything.
Going for his sixth win at the Memorial, and his fourth victory in his last five tournaments, Woods had two double bogeys and a triple bogey on the back nine for a 44, and he did that without a penalty shot.
“The conditions were tough and when I missed it cost me,” Woods said through a PGA Tour media official. “I caught the wrong gusts at the wrong time, made a couple bad swings and all in all, it just went the wrong way.”
He wound up 16 shots out of the lead. Woods will tee off late Sunday, but on the opposite side of the course in the two-tee start because of weather.
The tournament was happy just to complete 54 holes with mid-afternoon storms that avoided Muirfield Village.
Bill Haas, the 36-hole leader, ran off three straight bogeys late in his round for a 76, and he wasn’t all that upset about it. Haas was still only three shots back, and it wasn’t hard to determine that par was a good score.
Like so many other players, Chappell wasn’t sure which way the wind was blowing. On the 14th hole, with a wedge in hand from 105 yards, he felt the wind coming into him from the right, yet the flag was blowing in the opposite direction.
“I kept saying, `Wow, this is tough here.’ You hit a good shot and end up in a bad spot,” Chappell said. “What can I do? You’ve just got to keep doing it, put one foot in front of the other and finish each hole.”
Past winner Justin Rose had a 71 and joined Haas and Matt Jones (70) at 5-under 211. Masters champion Adam Scott had a 69 and was in the group at 4 under that included Charl Schwartzel, who was within one shot of the lead after completing the second round Saturday morning. The South African bogeyed both par 5s on the back nine and took double bogey on the 14th. He had a 41 on the back for a 76.
That was still better than Woods, whose round was somewhat of a mystery – not only because the world’s No. 1 player was in great form coming into a course where he has won five times, but because he was in good position off the tee. Woods, who started the round on No. 10, missed only one fairway on the back nine.
He took double bogey on the par-3 12th when he was in such a bad spot in the front bunker that he had to play out sideways to the wrong side of a long green, and then he three-putted. On the par-5 15th, he pulled his second shot well to the left, and then took two chips to get onto the putting surface only for the ball to run through the green. He really was fooled on the 18th, with a chip that spun back down the hill and a three-putt from short range.
He had three birdies on the front nine to avoid his worst score as a pro. That was an 81 at another Muirfield – the real one – in the third round of the British Open that cost him his best shot at the calendar Grand Slam in 2002.
Kuchar surged into the lead with two birdies on the front nine and didn’t drop a shot until the ninth hole, when he missed the green to the left. The wind got him on the 15th when his high fairway metal drifted beyond the bunker and into a hazard that Kuchar didn’t know existed, leading to bogey.
He saved par with a 10-foot putt on the par-3 16th, and made regulation pars coming in to give himself the 54-hole lead for the second straight week. He also was atop the leaderboard at Colonial, only to finish second to Boo Weekley.
“If you’re not hitting the ball solid, you don’t have a chance,” Kuchar said.
Rory McIlroy had a 75, and part of him was happy to do that. He was safely inside the cut line when he returned Saturday morning to finish his round, and he birdied the 15th hole. He followed with back-to-back bogeys, and then came up short of the green and had to get up-and-down to avoid missing the cut. He made a 4-foot par save.
Pat Perez and former Masters champion Bubba Watson were among those at 3-under 213, still with a chance but needing some help. Tee times were pushed back for Sunday in case of early storms that might require time to clean up the course.
Perez was asked whether he wanted more wind.
“I’d like it to be dead calm,” he said. “But I haven’t hit a shot when it’s not blowing 40 mph.”