KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — A change to the Kona wind Saturday made Kapalua play entirely different in the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Geoff Ogilvy stayed his same, dominant self.
Even as a half-dozen players made charges up the leaderboard on the best day for scoring on the Plantation course, Ogilvy answered with some superb pitching and three straight birdies on the back nine on his way to an 8-under 65. That gave him a six-shot lead over Justin Leonard and D.J. Trahan, and made everyone else in the winners-only field feels as though they were playing for second.
“I haven’t played this course with as many birdies out there as I did today,” Ogilvy said. “So I’m glad I had a good one.”
It turned the PGA Tour’s season-opener into a runaway, although Ogilvy conceded nothing.
He was at 19-under 200 after missing three good birdie opportunities on the closing hole, and was curious to see how he would respond to the largest 54-hole lead of his career.
Leonard made eight birdies over his final 14 holes on his way to a 65, the kind of round that he figured would give him a chance to win. But he never had a good look at the leaderboard until he walked onto the 18th green and saw that Ogilvy was at 19 under.
“It was a little deflating, to say the least,” Leonard said.
Ogilvy knows the feeling.
“I’ve never actually been this far in front before, but I’ve been this far behind a lot of times,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of deflated looks up at 18. That’s the way it goes.”
Trahan, who started the third round one shot behind Ogilvy, fell three shots behind after two holes and never got going. He shot 70.
“Three under isn’t bad, but when the guy you’re playing with starts with the lead and shoots 8 under, obviously you can do a lot better than 3,” Trahan said. “He played excellent.”
It was the largest 54-hole lead at Kapalua since David Duval led by seven shots in 1999, when he won by nine.
“It’s never over until the last hole,” Ogilvy said. “I’ve never had a lead like this going into Sunday, so it will be a new experience for me.”
It might be a new course, too.
While the Kona wind brought significant change in club selection, the forecast includes a big thunderstorm approaching the islands, leading the tour to move the starting times up some three hours.
Even so, this is Ogilvy’s to lose.
Camilo Villegas had to scramble for a double bogey on the opening hole, rattled off eight birdies in a 10-hole stretch and somehow scraped together a 66. That still left him seven shots behind, along with Davis Love III, Kenny Perry and Anthony Kim, who each had 68.
No one was more frustrated than Ernie Els.
He had a pair of three-putts on the front nine, missed a birdie putt inside 4 feet and finished with 34 putts for a 73. The Big Easy started the day two shots out of the lead, and goes into the final round as an also-ran, 10 shots behind.
Els, Adam Scott (73) and Ryuji Imada (74) were the only players in the 33-man field who failed to break par.
Boo Weekley might have had the best plan to stop Ogilvy.
“Catch him when he gets out of bed,” Weekley said. “Kidnap him. Lock him in the trunk.”
Ogilvy played smart throughout the day, including his choice of an iron off the 13th tee to play off a level lie in the fairway. His approach to a tricky pin was 7 feet right of the flag, and he made that to begin a pivotal run of birdies.
He drove to the edge of the 14th green for a simple up-and-down birdie, and hit one of several superb pitch shots from right of the 15th green for his third straight birdie. That stretched his lead to seven shots, and it might have been more except for missing two birdie putts inside 10 feet.
The wind change was evident on the 512-yard opening hole, where players typically hit a fairway metal to keep from running out of the fairway. Ogilvy had to smash a driver Saturday, but his approach covered the flag and settled 6 feet away for birdie.
He picked up easy birdies on the fourth hole, where the pin was accessible, and the par-5 fifth. But it was his birdie on the par-5 ninth that showed why he has such command this week. Coming up just short of the green, he pitched beautifully up the slope to tap-in range, building a four-shot lead at the turn.
Ogilvy has made only one bogey in 54 holes, that one a three-putt from 85 feet on the 17th hole Friday when the wind began to shift to the other direction.
“When you’re playing well, it doesn’t seem that hard,” he said.
This felt like an easy day for just about everybody. The average score was nearly four shots under par – 69.11 – and former Masters champion Zach Johnson turned in the best score of the tournament with a 64.
Villegas was as much relieved as pleased with his round.
He went left off the first tee, couldn’t escape trouble from a bunker and was hitting his fourth from where everyone else was hitting his second shot. That one was headed for the hazard, but barely cleared the native grasses and he chipped up close for his double bogey.
It was all good the rest of the way, especially his six straight birdies through the 10th hole.
But the way Ogilvy was playing, it might not matter.
“You can’t make mistakes and beat a guy like Geoff the way he’s playing,” Villegas said. “But tomorrow is another day.”