DUBLIN, Ohio – Rickie Fowler showed poise beyond his 21 years, unfazed by six hours of rain delays Saturday at the Memorial or a series of charges up the leaderboard to keep his three-shot lead at Muirfield Village.
Another long day left him one round away from joining the recent youth movement on the PGA Tour.
Fowler showed some imagination with a cut 9-iron over the water to 6 feet for his first birdie of the round, and he kept bogeys off his card for the second straight day to shoot 3-under 69 to lead Tim Petrovic (68) and Ricky Barnes, who shot a tournament-best 62 while playing alongside Tiger Woods.
Fowler was at 16-under 200 and had the largest 54-hole lead at the Memorial since Woods led by six shots in 2000.
“I’m hitting the ball well,” Fowler said. “I kept it out of trouble, and I knew opportunities were coming around. It was a matter of waiting for them.”
Patience doesn’t seem to fit with the trend toward youth.
Fowler will try Sunday to become the third PGA Tour winner in the last six week at age 22 or under, joining Rory McIlroy, who won Quail Hollow two days before his 21st birthday, and Jason Day, who was 22 when he won the Byron Nelson Championship.
Experience might not be a factor in this case. The five players separated by five shots going into the final round have combined for one PGA Tour victory, by Tim Petrovic in New Orleans in five years ago.
“I want to win against the best,” Fowler said. “That doesn’t change the way I play.”
The largest crowd at Muirfield Village followed Woods, and the cheers were loud and frequent. They just weren’t for him.
Barnes began his round my making a 40-foot birdie down the hill. Woods began his by walking to the hole as his birdie putt was about to drop, only to see it spin around the cup. Barnes holed out a 9-iron for eagle on No. 11 to reach 7 under for the day, and he kept right on going until he had the lowest round of his career, and the best score of the week.
“I think it probably got noticed a little bit more,” Barnes said. “Obviously, the cameras were probably already in our group, so they didn’t need to go anywhere. I’ll take a 62 anywhere, wither it’s with my buddies or a Saturday at the Memorial.”
For the first time since Woods returned to competition, he refused to speak to the media. “I’m done,” he said to a PGA Tour official before walking over a bridge toward the locker room, stopping to sign a few autographs at the top of a hill.
Woods had a 69, which included a double bogey on the 10th hole when his tee shot went 45 degrees to the right and out-of-bounds, much like his tee shot on the 14th hole of The Players Championship that went into a pond on the adjacent hole.
He was at 6-under 210, tied for 20th, well out of contention. A four-time winner at the Memorial, Woods has not been this far out of the lead since he finished 17 shots behind in 1998.
Phil Mickelson, in his third tournament with a chance to become No. 1 in the world by winning, could only manage a 70 on a relatively easy day for scoring. The greens were soft from the rain and soft skies, and there was no wind. He was at 8-under 208.
Mickelson also declined to speak to reporters.
Justin Rose shot a 70 and was still only four shots behind. That was the deficit he faced at the turn, after he dumped his approach into the water and made bogey as Fowler manufactured his 9-iron with a splendid shot behind the cup.
Rose rallied, however, and was only one shot behind through 14 holes when he chopped up the par-5 15th and took bogey. Fowler reached the green in two, but missed a 3-foot birdie putt. That was about his only mistake of the day.
Fowler has gone 52 holes without a bogey, the third-longest streak in Memorial history.
He caught a break Saturday morning when the third round was delayed more than four hours before he arrived at the course, allowing a little extra time to sleep. More rain was expected overnight and into the morning, which should keep Muirfield – a course that Fowler only saw for the first time on Tuesday – somewhat vulnerable.
Despite his youth, he has been under this pressure before.
Fowler was 20 last year and lost in a three-way playoff in his second PGA Tour start as a pro. At the Phoenix Open in February, he played in the final group and had a chance to win until failing to make birdie down the stretch and finishing one shot behind.
He believes his time is coming, and Fowler could not have asked for a better position. He has a three-shot lead on a soft course, with the heavyweights of Muirfield – Woods, Mickelson, Kenny Perry and Vijay Singh – far behind.