August 8, 2008

Third Round Winners And Losers

Matt Rudy analyzes the third round and tells you who came out a winner and who ended up a loser

WINNERS

Ben Curtis

It's not fancy, but it gets the job done. Curtis' 68 left him a shot clear of J.B. Holmes and Henrik Stenson, and in position to win his second major. Curtis was in the media center Friday joking about being the tour's leader in making par, but self deprecation aside, he'd happily take his chances with a 70 this afternoon. Curtis said his putting had been horrible the last few weeks, but it looks like it's trending in the right direction. He made five birdies on Sunday morning.

Padraig Harrington

The remarkable thing about Harrington's third-round 66, aside from the four birdies in a row from 13 through 16, was how surprised he seemed to be about being in contention. Tired from defending his British Open title, Harrington said his concentration wavered through his first two rounds, 71 and 74. But good things happen when you hang around, and Harrington has certainly figured out how to be patient. He was two behind Greg Norman at Birkdale and played a fantastic back nine to run away with the Jug. And, like last month, he's not trapped behind a host of stone-cold closers. He's part of the most entertaining threesome of the afternoon, with Sergio Garcia and Charlie Wi.

Andres Romero

Romero's course-record-tying 65 was reminiscent of his final-round 67 at Carnoustie last year, but without the shots into the burn. Romero used his towering iron trajectory to exploit the soft conditions for seven birdies. And by finishing before the rain, he'll be able to relax until lunchtime tomorrow.

J.B. Holmes

The second-round leader didn't hit a shot but was still a winner. The downpour will make Oakland Hills play about 500 yards longer tomorrow--a serious advantage for a guy who routinely carries the ball 315 yards off the tee. He also has young, 26-year-old legs, so 36 holes tomorrow shouldn't be a problem. Of course, a double-helping of major-championship pressure is a new thing for him.

Camilo Villegas

With four holes to play in his second round, Villegas is four-under for his round and two-over for the championship. The only downside is that, unlike Romero, he has to come back early and play the brutal 17th and 18th. Villegas' best finish in a major is a T-9 at Torrey Pines this summer.

LOSERS

Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose

There are low scores out there to be had, but Mickelson doesn't look like he's playing well enough to make a run. Three over at the start of the third round, he trudged to a 1-over 71 and fell six shots off the pace. Rose performed what is becoming one of his customary Saturday swan dives, coming in in 40 to sputter to a 74, which matched worst score shot by anybody in the top 30.

Charlie Wi and David Toms

If the long-hitting Holmes enjoyed seeing the rain, Wi and Toms had to hate it. There'll be no more generous rolls on baked fairways, and the juicy rough is going to take a lot more clubhead speed to escape. The greens will accept more long irons and fairway woods now, but giving up 40 yards off the tee--as Wi and Toms are to Holmes, Romero and Villegas--is a big handicap.

CBS

Anybody tuning in today saw 16 minutes of live coverage, then the replay from the classic Tiger Woods-Bob May tilt at the 2000 PGA. While the ratings for that replay might challenge this year's star-deficient edition, the network can't be pleased about the prospect of tomorrow's 36-hole fire drill. By the time viewers join CBS at 2 p.m., you can count on the fact that a lot about the story will have changed.

The Media Center Roof

After 20 minutes of pounding rain, rivulets of water started cascading down through the light fixtures in the apex of the media center's tented roof. The makeshift solution? Plastic bags from the merchandise tent to cover the laptops, for that classy, summer camp kind of look.

What To Watch For This Afternoon

Of the seven players within four shots of the lead, Harrington obviously stands out because of his recent success. But how much fuel does he have left in the tank? Combine the crispiness he's feeling from his British Open victory lap and the second 18 holes he'll be walking and it's hard to call Harrington the favorite. Garcia would be a great story, he first showed up on the golf radar at the 1999 PGA, taking Tiger Woods to the wire, so winning his first major at a PGA would be apt, but he's got his own finisher's baggage. Curtis is a classic overachiever, but it's easy to overlook that he's won twice since that 2003 British Open victory. If J.B. Holmes wins, it'd be the ultimate validation for bomb-and-gouge--and it might set back the pace-of-play movement 20 years. I think Garcia's putter will determine what happens this afternoon. If he can make the turn at 2-under for the day--and 1-under for the tournament--he might feel good enough about that shaky stroke to make the par putts he's going to need on those two brutal finishing holes. The flag on 17, the 235-yard par-3, is set five paces from the right side and just over the front right bunker. The safe play is going to be to the middle of the green, which will leave a putt over a giant swale. The pin on 18 is even harder--extreme front left, on a hole that slants from right to left in the fairway, pushing tee shots toward the big bunker on the left. The only shot to make a score is to hit the fairway and try to spin something back off the big ledge in the back middle of the green, down to that front pin. Good luck with that, though. It will be very easy to finish bogey-bogey.