Gillespie Kirk Share Canadian Lead
Gillespie and Kirk lead Jerry Hinds, Ken Duke, Jarrod Warner and 2002 U.S. Amateur runner-up Robert Hamilton by one stroke. Seven others, including Canadians Jim Rutledge, Rob McMillan, Jamie Welder and Zoltan Veress, are at 4-under 67.
Playing just a few miles northwest of his hometown, Gillespie tamed the 6722-yard, par-71 Mandarin Golf and Country Club with seven birdies and just one bogey. Thursday marked the first time Gillespie had a look at the entire course. On Tuesday, lightning suspended play during the pro-am, while Gillespie played just nine holes during a practice round Wednesday.
'This is the first time this week Ive had a chance to play all 18, and it is such great shape,' said the 24-year-old. 'You just have to focus on every shot or you can get into trouble in a hurry. But I think the results today are what Ive been working on for the last six months. Everything is coming along quite well.'
Gillespie was teamed with 1998 U.S. Amateur champion and current Tour money leader Hank Kuehne, as well as defending Greater Vancouver Classic champion Iain Steel on Thursday. It has been a breakthrough year for Gillespie, who won his initial professional event in May at the Myrtle Beach Barefoot Championship. There is an outside chance that Gillespie, with a win here, could catch Jeff Quinney for second spot on the money list, earning an exemption into the second stage of PGA Tour Qualifying.
'Ive known for a long time that I can play this game, I just had to work on it. Ill go out this week and try to wrap up the season on a positive note. The game is so mental at this level, and you have to keep your emotions in check. Ive grown up a lot in the past year, both with my game and as a person, and that has helped,' he said.
Kirk, who finished third at the Michelin Ixtapa Classic earlier this year, is in 25th spot on the Order of Merit money list heading into this week and is also looking for a strong finish. The four-time All-American at UNLV will attend both the PGA and European Tour Qualifying Schools later this fall.
'I think this course is a great challenge, and its a superb track for us to finish the year on,' said Kirk, who had a par-birdie-birdie start Thursday. 'If you are planning to go to Q-school, this is the time of year you want to watch your schedule and manage your time well. You dont want to be going into a slump going into the fall.'
The top three from the Canadian Tours monwey list, plus the next two Canadians, after this week will also be exempted into the Air Canada Championship and Bell Canadian Open.
McIlroy needs putter to heat up to catch Woods
ATLANTA – Although Rory McIlroy is three strokes behind Tiger Woods at the Tour Championship and tied for second place he had the look of a man with a secret when he left East Lake on Saturday.
Trying to play catch up against Woods is never ideal, but McIlroy’s confidence stemmed from a tee-to-green game that has been unrivaled for three days.
“I definitely think today and the first day were similar,” said McIlroy, whose 66 included birdies at two of his final three holes. “I gave myself plenty of chances, and I think the biggest thing today was only just that one bogey. Got to put your ball in the fairway, put yourself in position, and for the most part, I did that today.”
For the week McIlroy ranks first in strokes gained: off the tee, third in strokes gained: approach to the green and second in greens in regulation. But to catch Woods, who he will be paired with, he’ll need a much better day on the greens.
The Northern Irishman needed 30 putts on Day 2 and ranks 23rd, out of 30 players, in strokes gained: putting.
McIlroy skipped the first playoff event, opting instead for an extra week at home to work on his swing and the move has paid off.
“I hit the ball well. My wedge play has been really good,” he said. “I've done a lot of work on it the last few weeks, and it seems to have paid off.”
Glover trails Straka at Web.com Tour Championship
ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Sepp Straka moved into position Saturday to earn a PGA Tour card in the Web.com Tour Championship, shooting a 7-under 64 to take the third-round lead.
With the top 25 earners in the four-event Web.com Tour Finals getting PGA Tour cards Sunday, Straka birdied the final three holes to reach 18-under 195 - a stroke ahead of Curtis Luck, Lucas Glover and Denny McCarthy at Atlantic Beach Country Club.
''It's always good to get an extra birdie in late. I got three of them to finish, which was nice,'' Straka said. ''It's very bunched up there, so you can't really take off, you've got to keep the pedal down and see where you end up at the end.''
Straka entered the week tied for 80th in the card race with $2,744. The 25-year-old former Georgia player from Austria won the KC Golf Classic in August for his first Web.com Tour title. He finished 31st on the money list to advance to the four-tournament series.
''My ball-striking is really good,'' Straka said. ''It's been good all week. It's been really solid. I really haven't gotten in a whole lot of trouble and have been able to capitalize on a good number of chances with the putter. Hit a couple of bad putts today, but some really good ones to make up for it.''
Luck also shot 64. The 22-year-old Australian went into the week 16th with $41,587.
''Obviously, it just comes down to keeping that momentum going and trying not to change anything,'' Luck said. ''That's the really important thing and I felt like I did that really well. I played really aggressive on the back nine, still went after a lot of shots and I hit it close a lot out there.''
Glover had a 68. The 2009 U.S. Open champion entered the week 40th with $17,212.
McCarthy shot 67. He already has wrapped up a card, earning $75,793 in the first three events to get to 11th in the standings.
The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.
Woods' dominance evokes an old, familiar feeling
ATLANTA – It felt so familiar – the roars, the fist pumps, the frenzied scramble to keep up with a leaderboard that was quickly tilting in Tiger Woods’ direction.
For the handful of players who were around when Woods made a mysterious and maddening game seem simple, it was like old times, times that weren’t necessarily good for anyone not named Tiger.
“I’m kind of nostalgic,” admitted Paul Casey, who turned pro in 2000, when Woods won the U.S. Open by 15 strokes, one of his nine PGA Tour victories that year.
Casey’s 66 on Day 3 at the Tour Championship vaulted him into a tie for sixth place, but as the Englishman quickly vetted the math he knew those numbers were nothing more than window dressing.
“Sixty-four is my best on a Sunday which puts me at 11 [under], so if he’s 12 I need to shoot my career best in the final round and he needs to do something very un-Tiger-like,” Casey laughed. “I think I’m just posturing for position.”
Casey wasn’t giving up. In fact, given that he outdueled Woods earlier this year to win the Valspar Championship he could have hedged his comments and left the door cracked however slightly. But he’s seen, and heard, this too many times to allow competitive necessity to cloud reality.
On Saturday at East Lake, Tiger Woods was his best version. Throughout this most recent comeback he’s offered glimpses of the old guy, the guy whose name atop a leaderboard echoed through locker rooms for the better part of two decades. After starting the day tied for the lead with Justin Rose, Tiger quickly separated himself from the pack with a birdie at the first.
He added another at the third and by the time he birdied the seventh hole, his sixth birdie of the day, he’d extended that lead to five shots and was sending an unmistakable message that reached well beyond the steamy confines of East Lake.
This was what so many had waited for. This was the Tiger that Casey and others grew up dreading, a machine that never misses iron shots and makes clutch putts look like tap-ins.
“The crowds were electric,” said Rose, who was paired with Woods. “He was running the tables there. He was hitting good shots and making the conversion putts.”
Woods did come back to earth after his blistering start, playing his final 10 holes in 1 over par, but that did little to change the mood as the season moved to within 18 holes of the finish line.
He would finish with a round-of-the-day 65 for a three-stroke lead over Rose and Rory McIlroy. The next closest players were a dozen strokes back, including Casey at 5 under par who didn’t need to be reminded of Woods’ 54-hole conversion rate.
There are no guarantees in sports but Tiger with a 54-hole lead has been about as close to a lock as one will find this side of Las Vegas. He’s 42-for-44 when going into the final round with the outright lead and the last time he blew a 54-hole lead was at the 2009 PGA Championship.
Of course, he hasn’t had a 54-hole lead since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Truth is, he hasn’t had much of anything since ’13 when his dominance was sidetracked by an ailing back. As intimidating as Woods’ play has been this week there was an unmistakable sense of, let’s call it curiosity.
Asked if Woods’ lead felt different than it may have a decade ago, Rose’s response was telling. “Maybe,” he allowed after a pause. “It's a little more unknown now. Obviously his history, his statistics from this point are impeccable. They're incredible. But he's human, and there's a lot on it for him tomorrow, as well as the rest of us.”
Rose wasn’t trying to trick himself into thinking the impossible was possible, although many have when they’ve found themselves in similar positions, it was simply the truth. Woods has had multiple chances this season to complete the comeback and he’s come up short each time.
It was a poor iron shot off the 72nd tee at the Valspar Championship and an even worse drive a week later at Bay Hill’s 16th hole. It was a misplayed chip late on the back nine at The Open and a collection of missed putts at the PGA Championship, although in his defense it’s unlikely anyone could have caught Brooks Koepka at Bellerive.
Nor was Rose being disrespectful. It’s simple math, really, and Woods’ body of work to this point, although wildly impressive considering how far he’s come in 12 months both physically and competitively, paints a clear picture. Given multiple chances to break through the victory ceiling he’s failed to deliver the way he did before injury and multiple back procedures.
“I've felt very comfortable when I got into the mix there at Tampa even though it was very early in my start to this year. And because of that, I felt comfortable when I got to Bay Hill, (and) when I grabbed the lead at The Open Championship,” Woods said. “Things that didn't really feel abnormal, even though it's been years, literally years, since I've been in those spots, but I think I've been in those spots enough times that muscle memory, I guess I remembered it, and I felt comfortable in those spots.”
In many ways the script couldn’t have been written any better for Woods. It’s the bottom of the ninth, two outs and the bases are loaded for the 14-time major champion. Hero time, his time.
He’s been here so many times in his career and succeeded more times than not, and this new, reimagined version has the ultimate chance to complete what would arguably be the greatest comeback in sports history.
The ultimate test still remains, but for 18 holes on Saturday it felt so familiar.
Woods, McIlroy in Sunday super group in finale
ATLANTA – Rory McIlroy has made known his disdain for “super groups” in early tournament rounds.
Well, he’s now got one on Sunday at the Tour Championship. And it doesn’t get more super than this.
McIlroy will play alongside Tiger Woods in the final pairing, in the final round at East Lake Golf Club. Woods leads McIlroy – and Justin Rose – by three shots.
“All I can do is worry about myself,” McIlroy said. “It doesn't matter who it is I'm playing with. It's obviously exciting for the golf tournament. It's exciting for golf, in general, that he's up there. But for me, all I can do is concentrate on myself. The game is hard enough without having to – without looking at other people. Go out there, take care of my business, and hopefully that's good enough.”
This is the fifth time that McIlroy and Woods have been grouped this year. They were alongside one another in the first two rounds of the Genesis Open and the first two rounds of the PGA Championship.
In the four previous rounds, McIlroy finished better twice, Woods once, and they tied once.
“It's going to be fun. We haven't done that much of late, because I've not been there,” Woods said of going head-to-head with McIlroy for a title. “He has been there, and he's won a bunch of tournaments. So it's nice for us to go back out and play against one another, be in the mix.”
We know Woods will be wearing his traditional red in the final round. As for McIlroy?
"I think I'll wear red," McIlroy joked. "No, geez, I've regretted wearing black out here today. It was hot."
They go out at 2:05 p.m. ET.