It was a perfect day at Liberty National during the third round of The Barclays — but it was still a grind if you actually had to play in the breezy and tough conditions. Well, with the exception of Kevin Chappell, who posted nine-under 62, trumping the course record set by Keegan Bradley a day earlier. Chappell was even a bit surprised and bemused with with his impressive round.
“Here, in the wind, if you would have told me someone was going to shoot 62 today, I would probably have laughed at you,” said Chappell in his post-round press conference.
A few players did just that when asked for their take on Chappell’s record-setting round.
“It was a great score,” said Rory McIlroy, shaking his head, smiling. “I didn’t see that score out there. I thought maybe 66, 67, but 62 out there in those conditions today is very, very impressive.”
Added co-leader Matt Kuchar: “Darned good golf. It seems to be in all the golf I’ve played, no matter how tough the conditions are, somebody finds a way to play good golf. Whether it was junior golf, collegiate golf, professional golf, somebody seems to find a way. 62 is just awesome, really good play. Good for him.”
Chappell has had an up-and-down kind of season, but this is the second time he’s posted a 62 — he matched it in his first start of 2013 during the final round of the Humana Challenge, though it’s not exactly in the same league as today’s round.
“Not going to say you expect to do that in Palm Springs, but it’s not out of the ordinary,” said Chappell, referring to the Palmer Private at PGA West.
Chappell credits his turnaround to the work he’s done with coach Mark Blackburn.
“Since Memorial, I felt like my game was pretty good, and I felt like being that close to winning there, I really felt like my time was coming,” said Chappell, who hasn’t done anything spectacular since his runner-up finish to Kuchar at Jack Nicklaus’ tournament. “I was close, and probably some added pressure from that, those thoughts. Didn’t allow me to play the game the way that I know I can. You know, my game’s been pretty poor since Canada, we’ll see.
“But Mark (Blackburn) and I have been working on some good stuff. I guess the key for me this week has actually been some work that I do with James Sieckmann on just seeing more putts go in the hole. You know, trying to structure my practice around watching putts go in the hole and that’s what’s been happening.”
As you may recall in 2009 when The Barclays was last held at Liberty National, the relatively unknown Heath Slocum “upset” a bunch of heavy hitters by a shot, including Ernie Els, Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker. Interesting enough, Slocum also works with Blackburn.
“Believe me, I’ve heard the history of this event and Heath and here, and look forward to keeping Mark’s batting average as high as we can,” said Chappell, smiling.
Oh, another note to gauge just how impressive Chappell’s 62 was: The field scoring average today was ten shots higher at 72.01.
*Tiger Woods grimaced his way to a solid two-under 69, eight-under total, in the third round. Woods has struggled with a stiff neck and back pain this week after sleeping in a soft hotel bed, and he was visibly in pain Friday afternoon and throughout Saturday, showing obvious signs of discomfort — wincing, grabbing his back, gingerly bending over to tee his ball/pick it up from the cup, etc. — as the round progressed.
And, as someone who struggles with back pain, I’m all too familiar with Tiger’s body language.
“It starts off great every day, and then it progressively deteriorates as the day goes on,” said Woods, referring to his back where the pain is more localized. “Hopefully tomorrow it will be one of those days again and fight through it and see if I can win a tournament.”
Again, I can empathize.
(Painkillers help, too, not to mention humidity.)
Tiger started decently, but then made a few silly mistakes and threw in three bogeys on the front nine, but fought back on the back nine, rolling in three birdies in the last six.
“Yeah, just hung in there and that was a grind,” said Woods, who will enter the final round trailing by four. “I got off to a sweet start. Stuffed it at the first and gave two right back at 3 and 4 and kind of just hung around, hung around, hung around, and had a nice finish.”
Woods was also impressed with Chappell’s 62.
“I hung in there,” he said. “It’s golf. You just kind of grind it out. It’s a long day. And I was alluding to this morning, it was going to be a tough day. I wasn’t referring to what I had to deal with today; I was kind of referring to the conditions.
“But I figured a number in the mid-60s was certainly doable. Kev went out there and he got it, he shot the low one.”
*Matt Kuchar managed to post a one-under 70, but it was still good enough for a share of the 54-hole lead with his good pal Gary Woodland.
“Man, that guy can play some golf,” Kuchar opened his post-round press conference, while Woodland, was still in the room after wrapping up his chat with the media. “Gary was really impressive today.”His front side they put together was awesome. It was quite impressive. Got a couple bad breaks on the back side and it was kind of flip-flopping for him and I. I felt like a couple bad breaks for me on the front nine and got to playing some good, steady, solid golf on the back nine.
“I’ve been playing some nice golf these three days. Today was really difficult this afternoon, even this morning, the restart, it was blowing 15 or 20 miles an hour. Felt like it was definitely blowing all of 15, 20 miles an hour this afternoon, as well.
“The course seemed to play a good two or three shots harder I think today than it did the first two days.”
Kuchar has had some success at The Barclays, though the event rotates between four- to five-courses. He won the event in 2010 at Ridgewood and finished runner-up in 2011 at Plainfield. Is there a reason why he seems to consistently play well around this time of the year? Wait, is he ever really off? I mean, you can almost always count on Kuchar to be in the mix.
“There’s a $10 million incentive, absolutely,” he said, laughing. “Yes, these are great events. It’s become a really fun format. I’ve had my chances in the past. You know, been rewarded pretty well for some of my play. But yeah, I’d like to go home as the FedExCup Champion, absolutely.”
Kuchar has won two events already in 2013 and placed runner-up in a pair, as well. He will have a comfortable, somewhat friendly duel with Woodland on Sunday (though the two are good friends, they’ll still want to crush the other tomorrow).
Kuchar picked Woodland as his teammate for the World Cup in 2011 and the two proved to be complement each other well, breaking the United States’ 11-year drought at the event.
“Going into the World Cup, when I was the top-ranking professional that accepted the bid, I did a lot of looking around and kind of looking at the golf course and seeing who I thought would really help me to win the golf tournament. The course was I think 7,800 yards long. Kind of said, narrows it down pretty quickly to the guys I think I’m going to choose. Gary had become a good friend and knew he had all the horsepower and talent. Picked Gary for that reason, for the horsepower, and knew that that would be a huge advantage.
“So I had played the tournament a long side of him, and saw he was just driving it great. 18 was a perfect opportunity to take bunkers out of play down the left side and there was water on the right, but with him hitting driver, you could pretty much go as far as you want and as left as you want and you were okay. I encouraged him to stay aggressive, hit driver, and helped me; make the second shot a little easier on me.”
Good to know for future Ryder Cups…and perhaps even Presidents Cups!
*Gary Woodland shot a nice little three-under 68 to jump into a share of the lead. Woodland was having a forgettable year, but then broke out at the Reno-Tahoe Open, held opposite of the Open Championship, to win for the second time in his PGA Tour career.
“There’s been a lot going on,” said Woodland. “Obviously I made a lot of changes last year. Really I’ve made a lot of changes this year, too, but the key was getting healthy. I got healthy there in March. I started working with Claude. Started swinging a little more similar to what I was in 2011 when I was working with Randy.
“Then I really was struggling short gamewise. I hired Pat Goss the week of Augusta and my short game has been phenomenal ever since. Led scrambling a couple weeks this year which I’ve never done in my life. Pat’s really helped.
“Then I hired Julie Elion Wednesday of Reno, and really, just kind of cleared my head. Obviously I had made a bunch of cuts, kind of forcing it a little bit, trying to get back to where I was really with every golf shot and she helped me just let it go and relax. I’m in a great mental state right now and I’m playing pretty well.”
Again, Woodland and Kuchar are BFFs, so it’ll be a really comfortable pairing — cliched, overemphasized things you hear the commentators beat to death — for them tomorrow.
“Yeah, Kuch and I, he’s one of my best friends out here,” he said. “We’ve played a lot of golf out here. We play mostly every practice round together. Pretty comfortable with him.
“I knew what he was doing. I saw what he was doing. I was just trying to make as many birdies as I could. I saw there was a lot of guys making birdies behind me and I know I saw Kevin Chappell shoot nothing, so I knew they were out there. You wanted to give yourself as many birdies as you can going into tomorrow.”
*Jordan Spieth continues to show up on the leaderboard because he doesn’t know anything better. The 20-year-old started the year without any status and secured a few early top-tens playing on sponsor’s invites, and then, he won the John Deere Classic and nearly notched a second victory last week at the Wyndham Championship but lost in a playoff to Patrick Reed.
Spieth shot a three-under 68, seven-under total, putting him five shots off the lead.
“Just the fact to make the next event or making a certain amount of points,” said Spieth when asked about the depth of his grasp of the FedExCup Playoffs. “Just go out there and get on top of the leaderboard and try to make some birdies.”
Kids, these days!
“I’m going to have to play smart golf tomorrow, and obviously a round like I shot today is going to be a really good round,” he said. “I don’t think it ends up winning tomorrow, but I think I go out with the goal to try to hit as many greens as possible and focus on my speed to try to post a few under and see what happens.”
Well, another top-ten wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world…
Rory McIlroy’s game continues to progress in the right direction after his top-ten finish at the PGA Championship. Unfortunately, things might be rocky off the course, with rumors swirling that his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki is on the rocks. Which he’s denied.
BUT THEY BOTH REMOVED EACH OTHER FROM THEIR TWITTER PROFILE PICTURES LAST NIGHT. I mean, that’s like taking off your wedding ring! Gasp! Who knows, I sensed some unrest perhaps, but couples fight… and they also make up.