For a second consecutive day, front-runners at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial bumped their heads against a glass ceiling set at 7-under par.
This time, four golfers posted that total but dipped no deeper into red numbers after Saturday’s third round at an event where the course is humbling the world’s best players with its firm fairways, uneven rough and tricky crosswinds.
A full foursome of 54-hole co-leaders will head into Sunday’s final round, and all of them are new to the top of this week’s Colonial leader board.
The list includes a past Colonial champion (David Toms), a Colleyville resident (Chad Campbell), a finalist for the 2004 Ben Hogan Award (Chris Stroud) and Hideki Matsuyama, the No. 26 player in the world golf rankings.
But there is little wiggle room for the front-runners. A total of 10 golfers remain within one stroke of the lead, and 17 are within two. Among the notable pursuers are former Baylor golfer Jimmy Walker (6 under), who leads the 2014 PGA Tour in victories (3) and earnings ($4,568,475), as well as Adam Scott (5 under), the No. 1 player in the world golf rankings.
Heading into the final round, 49 of the 75 cut survivors are within five strokes of the lead. At 7 under, they own the highest third-round Colonial lead since 1999.
Barring a birdiefest in the final round, Colonial is on pace to break a streak of 14 consecutive champions who have gone double-digit deep into red numbers on their way to a plaid jacket. The last winner who did not was Olin Browne, the 1999 champion who finished at 8 under.
Toms, the 2011 Colonial champion, appreciates the challenge that awaits the front-runners based on 54 holes of evidence this week.
“The fairways are firm enough where the ball’s chasing into the rough a little bit. And there is just enough rough in places where you can’t control the distance with your iron shots,” Toms said. “That’s the biggest factor. And we’ve had a lot of wind, a crosswind on a lot of holes. So you’re always trying to figure it out.”
That has made bogeys more plentiful and birdies harder to corral than in the past decade, when the average winning score at Colonial has been 15 under par. Not even an afternoon storm that forced a one-hour, eight-minute rain delay could soften the scoring conditions Saturday.
“The greens are receptive, they’re not too fast, and still the best score is only 7 under,” Stroud said. “That has a lot to say about how great this golf course is.”
The packed leader board also suggests any number of golfers could win.
“You don’t really know what it’s going to take,” Campbell said. “All week, 2 under hasn’t been a bad score. You just have to go with your game plan and see what happens.”
Among the front-runners, Saturday’s best game plan belonged to Kevin Chappell. His third-round 63, posted in pristine morning conditions, included six birdies and an eagle. That carried him from the cut line to within a stroke of the lead. Matsuyama (64) and Toms (65) also made major moves Saturday.
But the golfer who exuded the most swagger at the close of Saturday’s round was Stroud, who buried a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 18 to grab a share of the lead. In his last 48 holes at Colonial, Stroud is 11 under. And the former Lamar University standout feels good about his opportunity to secure the first victory of his PGA Tour career.
Stroud, 32, said he “learned a lot” while playing in last year’s final round with Boo Weekley, the 2013 Colonial champ. And he plans to take advantage of those lessons while trying to seal his own Colonial title.
“Mentally, I’m in a great state of mind. I feel very confident with where I’m at,” Stroud said. “Somebody told me that Ben Hogan said he always won his tournaments in between sure and not sure [mentally]. If you’re too sure, you’re too confident, you get lazy. If you’re really unsure, you don’t have any confidence. So I’m right in the middle, I feel like. I’m happy where I’m at.”
So is Scott, who has improved his score in each of his three rounds at Colonial (71-68-66). The world’s top-ranked golfer finds himself two strokes off the pace after Saturday’s bogey-free 66. He is 9 under (10 birdies, one bogey) in his last 45 holes at Hogan’s Alley.
With a victory, Scott could solidify his tenuous No. 1 ranking for another week — a goal he would like to achieve.
“I would have loved to have gotten a couple more [birdies] and been closer at the end of the day,” Scott said. “But it was a good, solid round. The swing was in a good spot, right from the get-go. I’m very happy to have gotten to No. 1. I hope it’s not a short stay.”
Whether Scott or someone else can be the one to break through Colonial’s glass ceiling and put the 7-under mark in the rearview window will go a long way to determining who claims the plaid jacket. And, quite possibly, who leaves Fort Worth as the world’s top-ranked golfer.