DUBLIN, Ohio – Steve Stricker went from doing everything right to having just about everything go wrong as his lead was cut in half over the final five holes Saturday at the Memorial.
The good news for Stricker is that he had a six-shot lead at one point, and his 3-under 69 at Muirfield Village still kept him three shots clear of Jonathan Byrd going into the final round.
Stricker holed out for eagle from 113 yards on the second hole, made another eagle with a 3-iron into 6 feet on the par-5 fifth and looked as though he might run away from the field when he rolled in a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth.
But he missed three putts inside 7 feet – one of them for par – over the final five holes, and his tee shot on the 18th landed in the middle of a sand-filled divot, sending his approach beyond the green in thick rough. Stricker chipped out to 3 feet to escape with par and leave himself some decent vibes going into Sunday.
He was at 12-under 204 as he goes for his 10th career victory.
Byrd made birdie on the 18th hole for a 69 that will put him in the final group Sunday with a chance to win for the second time this year. Thanks to the late fade by Stricker, several others have a chance that at one time didn’t look possible.
Rory McIlroy couldn’t get the clean round he wanted. The 22-year-old from Northern Ireland, making a rare PGA Tour appearance, chopped up the par-3 fourth hole for a double bogey, hit into the water on the par-5 11th for a bogey and was falling back until he rallied with an eagle putt on the 15th. He wound up with a 71 and was five shots behind, along with Mark Wilson (66) and former PGA champion Shaun Micheel (67).
Luke Donald, in his debut as the No. 1 player in the world, was trying to make a charge on the back nine until he made two careless bogeys and had to settled for a 73. Donald was at 4-under 212, eight shots out of the lead. About the only thing Donald can likely achieve Sunday is to go for his 10th straight finish in the top 10. Donald was tied for 17th.
Phil Mickelson shot a 72 and was 10 shots behind, which he attributed mainly to his putting.
An amazing start gave Stricker strokes to burn toward the end of his round.
After an 8-footer to save par from a bunker on the opening hole, Stricker had 113 yards on No. 2. He reached into his pocket for a tee to clean out a chunk of dirt in his 53-degree wedge, set up over the ball and hit a perfect shot that spun into the cup for an eagle. Three holes later, he hit 3-iron over the water with just enough draw to catch the ridge and settled 6 feet away for another eagle.
Going back to the second round, it was his third eagle in seven holes. And he became only the 13th player on the PGA Tour since 1983 to make an eagle on a par 3, par 4 and par 5 in the same tournament.
He had it going so well that his lone bogey on the front nine came on a shot that was about a yard away from being an easy birdie, his wedge just hopping into a buried lie beyond the green instead of rolling down the ridge. But he answered with an 8-foot birdie on the seventh, and a 25-foot birdie on the eighth to go out in 31.
Staked to a five-shot lead on the back nine, however, Stricker began looking tentative. He missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 14th, chopped up the par-5 15th and made bogey, then looked as though he would save par from a bunker on the 16th until missing another 4-foot putt. And with a chance to steady himself, he caught the lip on a 6-foot birdie on the 17th.
He wasn’t alone in fading.
Kuchar made six birdies on the front nine and went out in 31 to try to stay in range of Stricker. But he also took bogey on the 15th, then went long on the 18th and missed a 6-foot par putt to fall back.
“A little disheartening,” Kuchar said. “Stricker was matching me shot-for-shot out there. I felt like I really had it going, and a little disappointing to drop a couple coming in. But it’s a tough golf course.”