ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – No matter what golf course Heath Slocum is playing, his formula for winning doesn’t change. He tries to keep it in the short grass and make as many putts as he can.
And no matter who else is playing, his desire to win isn’t any different, either.
Despite making his first bogey in 50 holes at Sea Island, Slocum posted a third straight round of 4-under 66 on Saturday to build a one-shot lead over Joe Durant and PGA Tour rookie Troy Merritt going into the final round of the new McGladrey Classic.
The last time Slocum won was last year at The Barclays, when a birdie on the final hole gave him a one-shot win over Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker.
This Fall Series event had only four players from the top 50 in the world.
“A golf tournament is a golf tournament, no matter if it’s a major, a playoff event or a Fall Series event,” Slocum said. “It means the same to me. “Yeah, the crowds, the media attention and what comes with that … definitely a lot more relaxed here than New York. Ultimately, I think it’s the same. I’ll go out with the same desire to win as I did at The Barclays.”
Slocum’s only bogey came at the 16th, when the sea breeze died as he fired an aggressive 6-iron to a back pin. It went over the green, and he failed to get up-and-down.
Otherwise, he was steady. Slocum has missed only seven fairways all week, a formula he worked out when he first played Sea Island and realized the rough could be unpredictable.
He will play in the final group with Merritt, a PGA Tour rookie who had a bogey-free 64 at just the right time.
Like so many others at this Fall Series event, Merritt is trying to finish among the top 125 on the money list to keep his card. Merritt came into this tournament at No. 123. Durant, who started the year with limited status, is at No. 131. He put himself in the mix by running off four straight birdies toward the end of his front nine for a 68.
Toward the end of another gorgeous day on the Golden Isles, it was a matter of keeping mistakes at a minimum.
David Toms, the 36-hole leader, stumbled twice along the St. Simons Sound. He pitched over the 14th green and had to scramble for bogey, then caught a flier from the rough over the green on the par-5 15th and had made another bogey. Toms shot a 70, but still was only two shots out of the lead going into a Sunday that could be wide open.
Twenty players were separated by five shots going into the last round.
That includes Davis Love III, the tournament host, who thrilled his hometown crowd with a 65. Love is among three players who spent last week in the rain and muck of Celtic Manor for the Ryder Cup. He was a vice captain, and the likely choice to be captain for 2012 when the Ryder Cup returns to America.
For now, he is thinking about winning – and running a tournament.
“Not a whole lot of expectations, but I’ve been hitting it better every day, and now I’m made because I’ve had two bogeys on No. 6 and three bogeys on 16, or I’d be right in the tournament,” Love said. “I’m doing better than I expected, but you know, you’re supposed to play good on your home course.”
Two Ryder Cup players were on their last leg. Zach Johnson shot a 68 and was at 6-under 204, six shots behind, while Matt Kuchar was another shot behind after a 68.
Kuchar is playing his final official event of the year and has a good chance at winning the money title and Vardon Trophy.
“One more round,” he said, wiping his forehead after he finished.
For so many others, their season has a long way to go. Durant was among six players within four shots of the lead who were outside the top 125 on the money list, a group that includes Tom Pernice Jr.
Pernice, who turned 50 last year and won in his debut on the Champions Tour, is adamant about playing against the best. He is skipping a senior major this week to play the Fall Series at No. 142 on the money list, and gave himself a good chance with a 65 to join the large group at 8-under 202.
Love hosted a party for the players earlier this week, and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem dropped by.
“He said, ‘What are you doing here? Why aren’t you at the (Senior) Players?”’ Pernice said. “I said, ‘Well, I’m trying to get my card out here.’ That’s been by goal from the get-go.”
Slocum is simply trying to win, as he does every week.
He still has another year from winning The Barclays, and at No. 43 on the money list, he is set for all the limited-field events. Slocum wanted to give himself three shots in the Fall Series at winning so he could start his year on Maui, and finish in the top 30 on the money list to earn a trip back to the Masters.
Durant is 46, with four PGA Tour victories, and he played this year on his status as a past champion. This is only his 17th tournament because of a limited schedule, but he feels as though he has been ready to play when he goes into tournaments.
He at least has experience on his side – not only winning, but knowing not to get to preoccupied with the money list.
“There’s no finality to tomorrow,” Durant said.