HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Troy Merritt shot a 2-under 69 on Saturday to take a three-stroke lead into the final round of the RBC Heritage, while defending champion Matt Kuchar and Masters winner Jordan Spieth stayed within reach.
A day after tying the course record with a 61 to build a four-stroke advantage at Harbour Town, Merritt had four birdies and a double bogey to reach 14-under 199.
Kuchar, Brendon Todd and Kevin Kisner were tied for second.
Todd made the big move with a 63, the day’s lowest round. Kisner shot 67, and Kuchar 68.
Jim Furyk led a group another stroke behind after a 68, with Spieth five shots back, also following a 68. Spieth believes he can shoot even lower Sunday to chase a second straight jacket, this one tartan.
Brice Garnett and Branden Grace were tied with Furyk in fifth. Garnett shot 65, and Grace 66. Bo Van Pelt was 9 under along with Spieth after a 67.
The pack of seven players at 8 under included 2013 RBC Heritage winner Graeme McDowell, past British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen and former world No. 1 Luke Donald.
Spieth thrilled the gallery with his bounce-back 62 on Friday and it was a full house around the first tee when the 21-year-old Texan got started. But Spieth played more like he did in Thursday’s opening 74 than in the second round, fighting to put shots close and make putts on the way to 68.
Still, it was Spieth’s 18th time breaking par in his past 19 rounds, a monthlong run of success that included the Valspar Championship title, seconds at Texas and Houston and that record-tying Masters win from last week where he matched Tiger Woods’ mark of 18-under from 1997.
And the fans continued to celebrate that accomplishment, shouting and applauding Spieth wherever he walked. One more round and Spieth can get some rest: He’s not playing the Zurich Open next week.
Spieth isn’t counting out his chances of another round like Friday’s. “There’s a low one out there and I think it’s certainly possible” to win, he said.
Only Bernhard Langer in 1985 followed a Masters win with success at the RBC Heritage.
Merritt had one-upped Spieth’s round Friday with a 61 to tie the tournament’s course record set in 1994 by David Frost. It moved Merritt to the top of the leaderboard and looked like it might give him a strong jump start to keep things going Saturday.
And Merritt opened birdies on the second and third holes to move to 14 under. But a double bogey on the par-4 eighth hole bounced him back down. Merritt eventually regained that edge with a birdie on the ninth hole and on the par-3 14th hole after knocking his tee shot within 4 feet. He made pars the rest of the way and will take to the course Sunday seeking his first career PGA Tour victory.
Kuchar overcame a double-bogey 5 on the seventh hole to keep within reach of playing partner Merritt.
Todd, nine strokes behind when his round began, got his run going with five birdies on the front nine to quietly move up. By the time he chipped in from 70 feet out on the 18th hole, Todd had moved into solo second place with only Merritt in front.
Todd, last year’s Byron Nelson Championship winner, has struggled to take that next step forward this year. He hadn’t finished better than 23rd in his past four events and missed the cut at last week’s Masters after shooting 80-71.
Todd said he struggled with his putting coming in and was glad to see his short game heating up to post his lowest round on the PGA Tour since shooting 63 in the second round of the Humana Challenge in January 2014. “Maybe it’s just coming a little bit early this year,” he said.
Divots: Threat of rain Sunday had the tournament organizers moving up tee times. Groups of three will go off the first and 10th tees between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. … Tom Watson was first on the course Saturday and his five birdies on the first 14 holes had the 65-year-old thinking he might shoot his age. But Watson had bogeys on two of the final four holes to finish with a 69. … Two-time RBC Heritage champion Boo Weekley shot a 77 on Saturday, his highest round ever in 35 career rounds at Harbour Town.