LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — Steve Stricker found it hard to believe the number Joe Durant had thrown out.
“Joe Durant was on my flight (from Hawaii) and I asked what his winning score was here and he said 36 under. And I’m like, `That’s unbelievable,”‘ Stricker recalled.
Suddenly it’s not so far-fetched.
Stricker shot a 10-under 62 on Saturday to reach 33 under and overtake Pat Perez after 72 holes in the birdie-fest known as the Bob Hope Classic.
With 18 holes remaining, Stricker and Perez, three shots back at 30 under, both have a chance to rewrite the PGA Tour’s 90-hole record Durant set in 2001.
“It almost seems like you can’t reach that goal,” Stricker said. “But here we are. We’re one day away from making, maybe breaking that record, which is incredible.”
Stricker shot 61 during the third round Friday to move into contention, and he birdied his final four holes of the fourth round to move ahead of Perez, the leader each of the previous three days.
After another of what has been a string of warm, windless days in the desert, Stricker was at 255, with his 33 under bettering the tour’s 72-hole mark of 31 under set by Ernie Els in the 2003 Mercedes Classic.
Stricker’s 61-62 also was a tour low for consecutive rounds. Mark Calcavecchia set the record by shooting 60-64 in the 2001 Phoenix Open, and Perez tied it with his 61-63 start in the Hope.
Tommy Armour holds the record for lowest 72-hole score, winning the 2003 Texas Open on a par 70 course at 254, which was 26 under. Durant’s total at the 2001 Hope was 324.
Stricker summed up his play so far.
“I’ve done a lot of good things. I haven’t made too many mistakes. And I’ve been trying to make as many birdies as I can,” he said. “Fortunately, I have been.”
So have a ton of other players.
As a yardstick of how low the scoring has been in the always par-as-a-memory Hope, the cut came at 15 under, lowest ever for a tour event. Jesper Parnevik, the 2000 champion, shot 61 in the fourth round and still missed the cut by a stroke.
Perez played at Bermuda Dunes and had his second consecutive 67, leaving him alone in second at 258. In one of the earlier groups to tee off, he took the lead into the clubhouse while Stricker was still reeling off birdies – including his final four holes – on the Nicklaus Course at PGA West.
Those two players may be dueling for the title over the final 18 holes, because the closest pursuers were Bubba Watson (63), Robert Garrigus (66) and Vaughn Taylor (68), seven shots off the lead at 262.
Garrigus figures he’ll have to go ultra low to have any chance.
“I’m going to have to shoot 58 to finish second, I think,” he said, grinning. “If there’s no wind, they’re going to have to stick the pins in the bunkers for us to not shoot 65 or 64.”
After rotating among four courses and playing with amateurs the first four days, the pros go it alone on Sunday over the Palmer Course at PGA West.
Perez said he feels good about his game heading into the final round.
“Whatever happens, at least I’ll be ready and comfortable going into it,” he said. “I love that (Palmer) course. That back nine is one of my favorites of all time.”