KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Mike Weir finally got one last birdie putt to fall, and it was enough to put him in the lead Saturday at the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
But even after a 5-under 68 on the most gorgeous day at Kapalua this week, one look at the leaderboard told the Canadian he would need another one just like it on Sunday, if not better.
This working vacation suddenly turned into a grind.
Weir, who missed three straight birdie chances inside 10 feet on the back nine, hit a deft chip to 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 18th that put him at 13-under 206 and gave him a one-shot lead over Nick Watney, who birdied his last two holes for a 67.
“I’m going to have to shoot another low one tomorrow,” Weir said.
Daniel Chopra (67) and Jonathan Byrd (69) were another stroke back.
In the 10 years that the season-opening event on the PGA Tour has been coming to the Plantation Course at Kapalua, there has never been so many players in contention going into the final round. Twelve players were separated by five shots, including defending champion Vijay Singh and Kapalua homeowner Jim Furyk.
“There’s a lot of guys that have an opportunity tomorrow,” Steve Stricker said after a 68 that left him four shots behind. “For me, it’s going to take a real low one to catch him. But it’s out there.”
Weir had to wait three years to make it back to Kapalua, the longest stretch without winning in his career, and he appears ready to make sure he won’t have to do that again. Playing in the final group with Stephen Ames of Calgary, followed along by a gallery with shirts, flags and even tattoos of the Canadian flag, Weir played without a bogey on a soggy course with strong breezes and sensational views.
But he never could pull away, not with the numbers being posted ahead of him.
Weir had three great looks at birdie starting on the 14th, but all of them grazed the lip. He wasn’t too worried because the stroke was good, and he had not forgotten the two par saves he made from 12 feet earlier in the round.
“I wanted to go as low as I could,” Weir said. “I saw a lot of good scores out there and I wanted to keep going.”
Watney made up a lot of ground on his final two holes with an approach that caught the ridge and grain beautifully on the 17th hole that set up a 20-foot birdie, then came up just short of the 650-yard closing hole in two shots for a routine birdie that put him in the final group.
“I hit the ball really well. It was a pretty stress-free day as far as that goes,” Watney said. “I made some putts coming down the stretch, which is nice, and I’m excited for tomorrow.”
It should be quite the shootout. One birdie can change everything. One mistake can send someone tumbling down the leaderboard.
Ames kept pace through nine holes and was tied with Weir at the turn, but he came up short of the 10th green, made bogey, and did not make another birdie until the final hole. He shot 70 and was alone in fifth at 10-under 209.
The group at 9 under included Furyk, whose 66 matched the low round of the tournament. Furyk, who bought a home years ago off the 18th fairway, had other plans for this week if he didn’t win the Canadian Open last year to qualify. Having grown up in western Pennsylvania, he was invited by Pittsburgh Steelers coach to attend the wild-card game Saturday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I guess it’s too bad I won last year,” he said. “I would have enjoyed that immensely.”
Kapalua isn’t too bad, especially because Furyk hasn’t been at his best on the Plantation Course since winning in 2001. Also at 9-under 210 were Justin Leonard and Brandt Snedeker, while Singh, Chad Cambell and U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera followed at 8 under.
“For whatever reason, there just isn’t much separation, which is good for me because I haven’t done anything to separate myself,” Leonard said. “There’s a lot of guys there. It would be easier being four shots behind with only a couple of players ahead of you. I’m not going out there thinking about winning the tournament, but it is doable.”
Weir attributed the bunched leaderboard to the conditions, which have been soft all week. One year he was at Kapalua, Ernie Els hit a drive so far on the par-5 15th that he had only an 8-iron into the green, and most of the field could reach the downhill, downwind closing hole in two shots because of how fast the ball runs on the fairways.
With balls slowed by the wet grass, the advantage for big hitters isn’t as great.
“I think maybe some of the longer guys can’t separate themselves as much because the ball is not traveling out there as much,” Weir said. “You see a lot of guys in the same areas. That’s probably why the scores are a little more bunched.”
Paul Goydos gets the award for most improved this week. After opening with an 81, he was eight shots better with a 73 in the second round, and followed that with a 67 on Saturday. … Henrik Stenson and Joe Ogilvie are the only players who have yet to break par this week on the Plantation Course. … With more rain overnight, rules officials allowed players to lift, clean and place their ball on the short grass for the first time this week.