River Highlands has been the sight of the first PGA Tour win for four of its last six tournament champions.
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Roland Thatcher and Englishman Brian Davis would like to make it five of seven.
Davis shot a 6-under 64, and Thatcher had a 65 on Saturday to share the third-round lead in the Travelers Championship at 12 under.
Davis said he’s not sure why this tournament, which comes a week after the U.S. Open, has been so good to relative unknowns.
”Obviously, some of the big players aren’t here, but there is still a really good field here,” Davis said. ”It’s just one of them things. I’ve had a couple of weeks off, maybe I’m not as tired as the other guys. But, I’ll take my win anywhere. I don’t care where it is.”
Davis made an early move, shooting a 29 on the front nine with six birdies. Thatcher overtook him with three straight birdies on the back nine and had a one-stroke lead before missing a 7-foot par putt on the 17th hole.
”I executed just really well in that stretch,” Thatcher said. ”It’s easy to say they’re easy holes, and that’s what you should do, but you still have to execute.”
Seventeen other players were within five strokes of the lead entering the final round.
John Rollins, James Driscoll and Stuart Appleby were two strokes back. Defending champion Fredrik Jacobson, who led after two rounds, shot an even-par 70 to remain at 9 under.
Davis said his fast start was helped by the thunderstorms that pushed the finish of the second round to Saturday morning and softened up the greens.
”I didn’t even realize I had shot 29,” said Davis, who has been a runner-up on the PGA Tour five times. ”I was just playing and everything was going right. Then obviously we hit the turn and we had the wind pick up for about three holes and it was playing tough all of the sudden.”
The first-time winners at River Highlands include Jacobson last year, Bubba Watson (2010), Hunter Mahan (2007) and J.J. Henry (2006).
But Thatcher said he’s not worried about that.
”I figure when I play well, I’ll play well and hopefully it’s going to be enough to keep the job every year,” he said. ”This week will go a long way towards that.”
Appleby, by contrast, is looking for his 10th tour win after making just one bogey in his round. The 41-year-old Australian said he’s happy to be considered the old veteran among the young guns vying for the championship.
”It would be good to get back in the winner’s circle, he said. ”The only cut I’ve made has been shaving for a long time. I played better golf when I was a rookie out here, and that’s just not right.”
Jacobson recovered from a bogey on 17 to birdie the final hole and stay within striking distance as he attempts to join Phil Mickelson, the 2001 and 2002 winner, as the only players to successfully defend a title at River Highlands.
”I’m really happy being three behind going into tomorrow rather than five or six,” he said. ”I’ll take the positives.”
Watson also is in the mix, one of four players at 8-under par. He had a 15-foot birdie putt to go 10-under at the 17th hole, but hit the ball five feet past the hole and then missed the return shot.
”It broke about 6 feet, maybe a gust of wind or something, and then when I putted it back up it either bounced or broke right and it shouldn’t do that, obviously, because it went one way and then the other,” Watson said.
Seventy-seven players spent Saturday morning finishing their second rounds after thunderstorms halted play early on Friday.
J.B. Holmes, who underwent brain surgery last September, finished the morning with 62, the second best round of his career. But he followed that a few hours later with a 75 and was nine strokes behind the leaders.
Camilo Villegas shot a second round 64 and shot 70 on Saturday afternoon. Villegas, who has three top-25 finishes this season, was four behind the leaders.
”It’s nice to see my name up on the leader board,” he said. ”It’s been a tough year and it’s always good to play good.”
Eighty-eight players made the cut at even par. But former UCLA star Patrick Cantlay wasn’t among them. He shot a 67 on Saturday morning to finish 2 over in the first tournament of his professional career.
”I struggled on the first day and never really recovered,” he said.