SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - Spencer Levin passed on Phoenix Open title sponsor Waste Management’s green-out, wearing a simple black-and-white outfit.
He didn’t exactly soften his carbon footprint, either, leaving a trail of cigarette smoke and butts in his wake as he increased his big lead at TPC Scottsdale.
“You mean guys in the crowd?” he asked when questioned about fans giving him grief for smoking on the course. “Oh, yeah, (they get on me) every time, but I enjoy it (smoking),” Levin said. “They were asking to bum them from me, too.”
He has lit up the Stadium Course so far, too, stringing together rounds of 65, 63 and 68 to open a six-stroke lead in pursuit of a breakthrough PGA Tour victory.
He wasn’t quite as sharp with his belly putter as he was the first two days but remained firmly in control in front of the largest crowd in tournament history, a noisy gathering of 173,210 in perfect conditions.
“It was fun for sure, but I was trying to focus, too,” Levin said about the huge crowd and party atmosphere. “You don’t get that too often, all those people cheering.”
Levin, five strokes ahead after the completion of the second round Saturday morning, had four birdies and a bogey in the third round to reach 17 under. The bogey on the par-5 15th was his first since the opening hole of the tournament.
“I felt like I played solid,” Levin said. “I felt like I was in control of my ball most of the day, and yeah, I’m pleased. I’ve never had a big lead like that starting the day, and I thought I played well. Overall, I’m pleased about it.”
Webb Simpson was 11 under after a 68. At No. 6 in the world, he’s the highest-ranked player in the field.
“I feel good, but my swing is just not really getting in sync,” Simpson said. “I’m missing the ball left and right. I want to polish that up. But I made a bunch of good swings down the stretch that gave me a lot of confidence.”
The 27-year-old Levin, remembered for a hole-in-one and 13th-place tie in the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock while still in school at New Mexico, is trying to win for the first time on the PGA Tour. He came close last year, losing a playoff to Johnson Wagner in the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Last week at Torrey Pines, Levin had a share of the first-round lead after a 62 but followed with rounds of 76, 73 and 72 to tie for 43rd.
“Hopefully, I can just stay calm, try my best and keep having fun,” Levin said. “I’m going to try my best. That’s all I’m going to do, and we’ll see what happens.”
Bubba Watson was seven strokes behind Levin after a 67.
“He’s playing so good, you don’t expect him to come back in the field,” Watson said. “You’re going to have to go chase him down.”
Tour rookie John Huh shot a 69 to join Watson at 10 under.
Kyle Stanley was eight strokes back after a 69 as he tries to rebound from a devastating loss. On Sunday at Torrey Pines, he made a triple-bogey 8 on the final hole of regulation and lost to Brandt Snedeker in a playoff.
Jason Dufner, second last year after a playoff loss to Mark Wilson, shot a 68 to join Stanley, Chris Stroud (66), Greg Chalmers (67) and Ben Crane at 9 under.
Fan favorite Phil Mickelson was 8 under after a 67. The former Arizona State star won the tournament in 1996 and 2005.
“I’d like to be further up, but given where I was 27 holes ago, I’m in a really good spot,” Mickelson said. “I’m starting to play some good golf, and I’m starting to get a little bit of momentum.”
While Levin wasn’t in on the green-out, many players had fun with it. Crane and Rickie Fowler were two of the greenest, sporting the color nearly head to toe. Mickelson wore a dark green shirt.
“I think it’s cool what Waste Management is doing, creating awareness for the environment as well as supporting the PGA Tour event,” Mickelson said. “We’re appreciative for all they’ve done.”
Levin got off to a good start with birdies on the third and fourth holes. He got up and down from the back fringe on the par-5 third and made a 16-foot putt on par-3 fourth. He followed with eight straight pars, most tap-in putts after birdie misses, before two-putting for birdie on the par-5 13th to reach 17 under.
He bogeyed the par-5 15th after hooking his drive and having the ball bounce into the water.
“Kind of tugged that a little bit left,” Levin said. “It wasn’t that bad a shot, but if you hit anything in the left side of that fairway, it’s probably going to go in the water. I didn’t hit it where I wanted to.”
Levin saved par on the amphitheater par-3 16th after leaving his first attempt five feet short, holing a tricky sidehill putt. He then birdied the short, par-4 17th, blasting out of the right greenside bunker to three feet. On Friday, he eagled the hole when he holed out from the same bunker.He’s playing with a big lead for the first time on the PGA Tour.
“I tried not to think about it,” Levin said. “I was just trying to focus on my game and my ball, and it worked out good today. I tried as hard as I could just to do what I did the first two days, and that’s what I’m going to do tomorrow, too.”
DIVOTS: The previous attendance record of 170,802 was set in the third round in 2008. The event has drawn 459,815 fans, starting with practice Monday. There were 77,053 fans Thursday and 116,299 Friday. The tournament record for a week is 538,356, also set in 2008. … Defending champion Wilson, coming off a victory two weeks ago in the Humana Challenge, was even par after a 74. … The start of play was delayed 15 minutes because of frost after hour delays the first two days. Last year, frost and frozen greens delayed play nine hours during the week, forcing a Monday finish.