Top-ranked defending champion Jordan Spieth fought into contention but it was fellow American Bill Haas who grabbed the lead after Saturday’s third round of the US PGA Valspar Championship.
Reigning Masters and US Open champion Spieth, frustrated after opening with a 76, fired a bogey-free four-under par 67 Saturday to reach two-under 211, six shots off the pace of Haas, who also had a 67 on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook.
“I’m still in this golf tournament,” Spieth said. “(I will need) something like seven-under tomorrow, which is feasible. So to think after the first round that I go Saturday night and be able to sleep with a chance to win the golf tournament, I’m very pleased with that.”
Haas birdied the par-5 first and par-3 fourth then began the back nine with back-to-back birdies. He answered a bogey at the par-3 13th with a chip-in birdie at the par-3 15th to grab his seventh career 54-hole lead, his first since winning last year at Palm Desert, California.
“I made some nice putts early and some loose shots on the back nine I was able to get away with,” Haas said. “Overall somewhat solid. Very pleased to shoot four-under.”
Canada’s Graham DeLaet, seeking his first US PGA title, was second on 206 after a 68 while Americans Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore shared third on 208, a US trio of Steve Stricker, Patrick Reed and Charles Howell were on 209 and South African Charl Schwartzel was on 210.
Then came Spieth in a pack of 10 players on 211. The 22-year-old Texan said he wouldn’t rule out flirting with the course record of 61 even though the layout has been stingy this week.
“I don’t even think we need to do that tomorrow and we’re definitely capable of it,” Spieth said.
Spieth found all but two fairways after reaching only seven in the first two rounds and his greens in regulation has progressed from six to 10 to 12.
“My misses were still on the greens today,” Spieth said. “I drove the ball a bit better. To be honest with you, it really felt like it was a 6-, 7-under round.”
Spieth opened with a tap-in birdie, added a 31-foot birdie at the 12th and sank a 51-foot eagle putt at the par-5 14th hole.
“I was leaving everything short, which you’ll see a lot this week here, but started to be a little more aggressive today on the greens, hitting my longer putts harder and it was stress-free pars for the majority of the round,” Spieth said. “Really nice to have no blemishes.”
Spieth, who won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January, was happy at his fightback from a poor start.
“Very well could have packed it in and had some more rest this week,” Spieth said. “But we did a great job of sticking to it and understanding that if we’re patient with our birdies out here and we just limit those bogeys and don’t take too many chances we can shoot rounds of 3-, 4-under and maybe you get one at 6 (under) tomorrow and I have a chance to win.”
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