Stricker takes 3-shot lead at Memorial

Steve Stricker went from doing everything right to having just

about everything go wrong as his lead was cut in half over the

final five holes at the Memorial on Saturday.

The good news for Stricker is that he had a six-shot lead at one

point, and his 3-under 69 at Muirfield Village still kept him three

shots clear of Jonathan Byrd going into the final round. He was at

12-under 204 as he goes for his 10th career victory.

Stricker holed out for eagle from 113 yards on the second hole,

made another eagle with a 3-iron into 6 feet on the par-5 fifth and

looked as though he might run away from the field when he rolled in

a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth.

But he missed three putts inside 7 feet – one of them for par –

over the final five holes, and his tee shot on the 18th landed in

the middle of a sand-filled divot, sending his approach beyond the

green in thick rough. Stricker chipped out to 3 feet to escape with

par and leave himself some decent vibes going into Sunday.

”All of a sudden, things seemed pretty hard, when at the start

of the day, things were really going my way,” he said. ”But I

understand that, and I understand that’s the nature of this game.

So you add them up at the end, and it was a 69. And it was a good

score.”

Byrd made birdie on the 18th hole for a 69 that will put him in

the final group on Sunday with a chance to win for the second time

this year. Thanks to the late fade by Stricker, several others have

a chance that at one time didn’t look possible.

”I’m doing everything pretty well,” Byrd said.

Matt Kuchar, who made six birdies in his opening nine holes, had

a 68 despite two bogeys in his last four holes. He was four shots

behind, along with Brandt Jobe, who shot a 69.

Rory McIlroy couldn’t get the clean round he wanted. Making a

rare U.S. PGA Tour appearance, McIlroy chopped up the par-3 fourth

hole for a double bogey, hit into the water on the par-5 11th for a

bogey and was falling back until he rallied with an eagle putt on

the 15th. He wound up with a 71 and was five shots behind, along

with Mark Wilson (66) and former U.S. PGA champion Shaun Micheel

(67).

”Even though I didn’t play my best stuff today, I’m still in a

decent position going into tomorrow,” McIlroy said. ”And that’s

all you can ask for.”

Luke Donald, in his debut as the No. 1 player in the world, was

trying to make a charge on the back nine until he made two careless

bogeys and had to settled for a 73. Donald was at 4-under 212,

eight shots out of the lead. About the only thing Donald can likely

achieve on Sunday is to go for his 10th straight finish in the top

10. Donald was tied for 17th.

Phil Mickelson shot a 72 and was 10 shots behind, which he

attributed mainly to his putting.

An amazing start gave Stricker strokes to burn toward the end of

his round.

After an 8-footer to save par from a bunker on the opening hole,

Stricker had 113 yards on No. 2. He reached into his pocket for a

tee to clean out a chunk of dirt in his 53-degree wedge, set up

over the ball and hit a perfect shot that spun into the cup for an

eagle. Three holes later, he hit 3-iron over the water with just

enough draw to catch the ridge and settled 6 feet away for another

eagle.

Going back to the second round, it was his third eagle in seven

holes. And he became only the 13th player on the U.S. PGA Tour

since 1983 to make an eagle on a par 3, par 4 and par 5 in the same

tournament.

He had it going so well that his lone bogey on the front nine

came on a shot that was about a yard away from being an easy

birdie, his wedge just hopping into a buried lie beyond the green

instead of rolling down the ridge. But he answered with an 8-foot

birdie on the seventh, and a 25-foot birdie on the eighth to go out

in 31.

Staked to a five-shot lead on the back nine, however, Stricker

began looking tentative. He missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the

14th, chopped up the par-5 15th and made bogey, then looked as

though he would save par from a bunker on the 16th until missing

another 4-foot putt. And with a chance to steady himself, he caught

the lip on a 6-foot birdie on the 17th.

He wasn’t alone in fading.

Kuchar made six birdies on the front nine and went out in 31 to

try to stay in range of Stricker. But he also took bogey on the

15th, then went long on the 18th and missed a 6-foot par putt to

fall back.

”A little disheartening,” Kuchar said. ”Stricker was matching

me shot-for-shot out there. I felt like I really had it going, and

a little disappointing to drop a couple coming in. But it’s a tough

golf course.”