DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) – Spencer Levin gets another crack at his first PGA Tour win, this time with a smaller lead and a lot more star power behind him.
Levin felt as though he could do no wrong Saturday at the Memorial when he chipped in for eagle, chipped in for birdie and even had a par putt swirl around the cup and fall in. That allowed him to make a few mistakes on the back nine and still post a 3-under 69 for a one-shot lead over Rory Sabbatini (71).
Rickie Fowler also had a 69, one of only three rounds in the 60s, and was three shots behind.
Fowler will play in the final round with Tiger Woods, a four-time Memorial champion who is very much in the picture. Woods had a share of the lead early, but fell back with a sloppy short game on the back nine and had to settle for a 73. He was four shots back.
Levin, a self-styled Californian who rarely hides his emotions, had a six-shot lead going into the final round of the Phoenix Open this year until he squandered it away on the back nine and wound up losing to a remarkable comeback by Kyle Stanley.
What did he learn?
“People have been asking me that question, and I don't know yet,'' Levin said. “I'll be able to answer that tomorrow.''
Muirfield Village figures to be a far stronger test, not only the course but who is chasing him down.
A strong wind and firm conditions – not to mention a few pins tucked near the edges of the greens – made for difficult scoring. Only 14 of the 71 players managed to break par.
That's one reason this tournament is far from over. The other reason comes from the six players right behind him. All of them have either won majors, regular PGA Tour events or played in the Presidents Cup.
Levin was at 8-under 208 and will play for the second straight day with Sabbatini, two animated players in their own way.
Woods and Fowler will play together for the second time in a month, this time with a little more riding on their scores. They were in the same group the opening two rounds of The Players Championship.
Ryo Ishikawa, using a local caddie from Muirfield Village, ran off three straight birdies on the back nine and finished with a 71. The Japanese star was in a group at 213 that included Henrik Stenson (71) and Jonathan Byrd (72).
Vijay Singh had the other 69 and was in the group at 214, six shots behind.
“Four shots is definitely manageable around this golf course, considering the conditions and what they're going to be tomorrow,'' Woods said. “A lot of guys are still in this ballgame. It'll be an exciting day tomorrow.''
Levin provided plenty of excitement during the first few hours Saturday.
He rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt on the second hole. From behind the green on the par-5 fifth, with the green running away from him, he holed his chip for eagle to seize control. After going out in 32, he appeared to be in trouble on the 10th when his second shot came up 30 yards short. No problem. He holed that chip for birdie to become the only player all week to reach 10-under par.
At that point, Levin had a four-shot lead and looked to be building the kind of third-round margin he had in Phoenix. Muirfield Village was such a stern test, however, that it wouldn't allow it. The par 5s on the back nine – along with the delicate par-3 12th over the water – were into a strong wind. It was equally difficult to control shots with the wind at the back, and the greens were faster than they have been all week.
Levin found the back bunker at No. 12 and wisely played away from the flag to avoid going through the green, making a bogey. He was walking after his tee shot on the par-3 16th, believing it would land near the flag, and then stopped in his tracks when it bounced over the green. He missed a 4-foot putt for par, and then nearly made another bogey on the 17th when he hooked his tee shot into the bunker and chose to chip out sideways. He escaped with par by making a 15-foot putt.
Sabbatini traded birdies and bogeys on the front nine, and was far steadier on the back nine. He played bogey-free.
Woods expected much more from his game, especially the way he controlled the ball when the wind was at its worst. He holed a 20-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the opening hole, got up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 seventh for another birdie and made the turn in good shape.
But he pulled his tee shot on the 10th hole into the wind and couldn't reach the green, found the back bunker on the par-3 12th that forced him to settle for bogey and couldn't make a putt over the last three holes – a three-putt from 20 feet on the 16th for bogey, a 10-footer for birdie on the 17th, and another 10-footer for par on the last hole when his approach rolled back off the green.
“I probably shot the highest score I could have shot today considering the way I hit it,'' Woods said.
Woods already has won the Memorial more than anyone, and if he can rally from four shots to win on Sunday, he would join tournament host Jack Nicklaus at No. 2 in career wins on the PGA Tour at 73.
“I can't look at it that way,'' Woods said. “I have to look at it like I'm four back. And I know conditions are going to be difficult again.''