Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland began their week at The Barclays by going to Citi Field and getting a tour of the clubhouse, where Kuchar noticed an indoor batting cage and asked if they could try it out. He stood behind the net and threw to Woodland, a promising baseball player in high school.
"Gary hit and was really impressive," Kuchar said. "I didn’t hit and didn’t show anything differently, but Gary was impressive swinging a baseball bat."
Woodland isn’t too bad with a golf club in his hands, either.
Playing with Kuchar in the final group, Woodland ran off four straight birdies Saturday afternoon with another powerful display of his athleticism and shot a 3-under 68, giving him a share of the lead with Kuchar going into the final round at Liberty National.
"Man, that guy can play some golf," Kuchar said, knowing that Woodland was within earshot.
Kuchar, who played bogey-free on the back nine in blustery conditions for a 70, remains more polished. He already has two wins this year, at the Match Play Championship and Memorial, and he is a past champion at The Barclays.
For much of the day they were trading birdies — along with a few bad breaks — and wound up tied at 12-under 201.
Kuchar’s from off the green on the reachable par-4 16th was stopped by a sprinkler, while Woodland putted his to close range for birdie. Woodland gave back the stroke on the next hole with a drive that plugged into the far end of the bunker, forcing him to blast it out sideways and costing him a bogey.
They are close friends and former World Cup partners.
But the final round at Liberty National doesn’t belong to only them. Kevin Chappell broke the tournament course record with a 62 — 10 shots better than the average score on Saturday — and was one shot behind.
"In the wind, if you would have told me someone was going to shoot 62 today, I would probably have laughed at you," Chappell said.
And very much in the mix was Tiger Woods, bad back and all. Woods was just hanging around for so much of the day, gingerly bending over to put his ball on a tee and retrieve it out of the cup. His fortunes turned with two strong shots on the par-5 13th led to birdie, he drove the 16th green for another birdie and finished with a 10-foot birdie putt and a 69. Woods was four shots behind, along with David Lynn, who also had a 69.
"It starts off great every day, and then it progressively deteriorates as the day goes on," Woods said of his lower back, which he hurt from what he said was a soft bed in his hotel room. "Hopefully, tomorrow it will be one of those days again. Fight through it and see if I can win a tournament."
The large group at 7-under 206 included 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Jim Furyk, Justin Rose and Rickie Fowler.
Chappell’s round was evidence that even in windy conditions, low scores are available. For the former UCLA Bruin, it was really was simple as making putts, most of them in that 10-foot to 15-foot range. There were a few par saves on the back nine, and six birdies on the front.
"I just really holed all the putts that you kind of expect to hold but you don’t always hole," he said.
Kuchar and Woodland will be in the final group for the second straight day, and they certainly aren’t strangers.
Kuchar represented the Americans in the World Cup two years ago in China. After scouting the Mission Hills course and seeing it was long, he picked Woodland as his partner. The Americans wound up winning their first World Cup title in over a decade.
Woodland is regarded as one of the best athletes on tour — a promising baseball player in high school who first went to a Division II school to play basketball and then transferred to Kansas to play golf.
But he has disappeared since winning at Innisbrook two years ago, mainly from injuries to both wrists. He began working with Claude Harmon III in the spring, and he hired mental coach Julie Elion right before his season turned around by winning the Reno-Tahoe Open earlier this month.
"I’ve really let my game take over," Woodland said.
He surged into the lead during a four-hole stretch to close out the back nine — a 5-iron into the par-5 sixth, a sand wedge to 10 feet for birdie on No. 7, a 4-wood for his second shot on the par-5 eighth for birdie, and a 6-iron for a fourth straight birdie on the ninth. Even on the 16th hole, which played 289 yards, Woodland has so much power than he went with a 2-iron and came up just short.
Kuchar caught up by playing bogey-free on the back nine with three birdies, starting with a superb shot on the 10th to 3 feet.
DIVOTS: Rory McIlroy had an even-par 71 and was six shots out of the lead. … Aaron Baddeley shot 66, and at No. 119 in the FedEx Cup standings, stands a good chance of being among the top 100 players to advance to the second playoff event next week outside Boston. …Greg Chalmers made a hole-in-one on the 135-yard 14th, with the Statue of Liberty in view to the right. In the next group, K.J. Choi almost made an ace. … Lynn was squatting to read the line of his putt on the 10th green when he toppled backward and landed on his seat. Looking over, he made a motion that he had been drinking, and the gallery ate it up. … Chappell has gone 25 consecutive holes without a bogey.