Matt Kuchar thrived in tough conditions at the Memorial that sent Tiger Woods to the worst nine holes of his U.S. PGA Tour career on Saturday.
Kuchar survived a nasty combination of swirling wind and fast greens at Muirfield Village for a 2-under 70, giving him a two-shot lead over Kevin Chappell and Kyle Stanley going into the final round.
”It was a bit of survival,” Kuchar said. ”I was fortunate to make a handful of birdies. I think anytime you make a birdie in these conditions, you feel like you’re really up on the field here. Most of these holes, you’re looking at just getting out with a par.”
Woods didn’t get away with anything.
Going for his sixth win at the Memorial, and his fourth victory in his last five tournaments, Woods had two double bogeys and a triple bogey on the back nine for a 44, breaking by one shot his highest nine-hole total as a pro. And he made that without a penalty shot.
”The conditions were tough and when I missed it cost me,” Woods said through a tour media official. ”I caught the wrong gusts at the wrong time, made a couple bad swings and all in all, it just went the wrong way.”
He wound up 16 shots out of the lead. Woods will tee off late Sunday, but on the opposite side of the course in the two-tee start because of weather.
The tournament was happy just to complete 54 holes with mid-afternoon storms that avoided Muirfield Village.
Kuchar was at 8-under 208, among 10 players separated by only four shots.
Bill Haas, the 36-hole leader, ran off three straight bogeys late in his round for a 76, and he wasn’t all that upset about it. Haas was still only three shots back, and it wasn’t hard to determine that par was a good score.
That’s what made Chappell’s round so impressive – a 68 to match the low score of the third round, his only bogey on the par-5 11th hole when he drove out-of-bounds, and his second tee shot nearly did the same.
Like so many other players, Chappell wasn’t sure which way the wind was blowing. On the 14th hole, with a wedge in hand from 105 yards, he felt the wind coming into him from the right, yet the flag was blowing in the opposite direction.
”I kept saying, `Wow, this is tough here.’ You hit a good shot and end up in a bad spot,” Chappell said.
Past winner Justin Rose had a 71 and joined Haas and Matt Jones (70) at 5-under 211. Masters champion Adam Scott had a 69 and was in the group at 4 under that included Charl Schwartzel, who was within one shot of the lead after completing the second round in the morning. The South African bogeyed both par 5s on the back nine and took double bogey on the 14th. He had a 41 on the back for a 76.
That was still better than Woods, whose round was somewhat of a mystery – not only because the world’s No. 1 player was in great form coming into a course where he has won five times, but because he was in good position off the tee. Woods, who started the round on No. 10, missed only one fairway on the back nine.
He took double bogey on the par-3 12th when he was in such a bad spot in the front bunker that he had to play out sideways to the wrong side of a long green, and then he three-putted. On the par-5 15th, he pulled his second shot well to the left, and then took two chips to get onto the putting surface only for the ball to run through the green. He really was fooled on the 18th, with a chip that spun back down the hill and a three-putt from short range.
He had three birdies on the front nine to avoid his worst score as a pro. That was an 81 at another Muirfield – the real one – in the third round of the British Open that cost him his best shot at the calendar Grand Slam in 2002.
Kuchar surged into the lead with two birdies on the front nine and didn’t drop a shot until the ninth hole, when he missed the green to the left. The wind got him on the 15th when his high fairway metal drifted beyond the bunker and into a hazard that Kuchar didn’t know existed, leading to bogey.
He saved par with a 10-foot putt on the par-3 16th, and made regulation pars coming in to give himself the 54-hole lead for the second straight week. He also was atop the leaderboard at Colonial, only to finish second to Boo Weekley.
”If you’re not on good form, these conditions are really going to beat you up,” said Kuchar, the Accenture Match Play winner in February. ”If you’re not hitting the ball solid, you don’t have a chance.”
Rory McIlroy had a 75, and part of him was happy to do that. He was safely inside the cut line when he returned in the morning to finish his round, and he birdied the 15th hole. He followed with back-to-back bogeys, and then came up short of the green and had to get up-and-down to avoid missing the cut. He made a 4-foot par save.