An extended day of golf, marked by two separate stints between the ropes at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial, ended the same way as it started Saturday for Matt Kuchar: with a one-stroke lead.
Kuchar began his 21-hole journey with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call to finish a rain-delayed second round, then returned to Colonial after a two-hour break to fire a third-round 69 and carve out a one-shot advantage over his four closest pursuers heading into Sunday’s final trip around Hogan’s Alley.
With 18 golfers perched within four strokes of the lead, Kuchar acknowledged he will need to put up more red numbers in the final round than he collected Saturday if he is going to collect a red plaid jacket on a day when fans — as well as competitors — have been urged to wear red in support of Red Cross relief efforts for Oklahoma tornado victims.
“It’s going to take a bunch of birdies,” said Kuchar, who collected only three Saturday while posting an 11-under-par total through 54 holes. “There is going to be a bunch of guys shooting low, and I will have to see how low I can go as well. It would have been nice to have extended the lead a little bit.”
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But that did not happen on a day marked by wind gusts to 25 mph, when the average score posted by the 78 cut survivors was 70.01, highest of tournament week. Matt Every, the 2006 Ben Hogan Award winner, joined Boo Weekley in posting 66s to reach 10 under and move within a stroke of the lead. Also in the 10-under mix are Chris Stroud and Graham DeLaet, with a four-player group that includes Martin Flores, a former Oklahoma and Mansfield High School golfer, at 9 under.
Weekley, who bagged six birdies Saturday despite battling a medical condition that caused him to lose focus in his left eye, likes his chances to claim the Leonard Trophy even though he called in his caddie to help read putts “probably 15 or 20 times” this week when his eye begun twitching and caused blurry vision.
“When I’m trying to focus on something, especially staring down on the ball to putt, it will just twitch real bad,” said Weekley, who has consulted doctors about his condition. “They said it was from lack of sleep. Then, they said it may have been from alcohol. I don’t know.”
What he does know, Weekley said, is that he split 11 of 14 fairways and found 13 of 18 greens in regulation despite Saturday’s breezier conditions.
“I feel like I’ve got the best chance out here to win right now,” said Weekley, who captured his last PGA Tour title at the 2008 Verizon Heritage event. “I feel like I’m hitting it good enough. I’m putting the ball good enough.”
But it is Kuchar, the No. 13 player in the world golf rankings and top-rated golfer in the Colonial field, who holds the lead as well as the edge in credentials over his primary pursuers. After a blistering start, however, Kuchar has managed just four birdies and two bogeys over his last 27 holes at Colonial.
Every, his final-round playing partner, is 6 under in his last 27 holes at Hogan’s Alley, including Saturday’s closing birdie at No. 18 when the former Florida standout almost holed a 97-yard wedge shot. His 2-foot birdie putt put him in the final group.
Every said he hopes for another day of 25 mph winds “to kind of separate the field a little bit” at a course where the greens remain soft and receptive after Friday night rains. The soft greens contributed to a myriad of momentum shifts Saturday.
Dallas teen phenom Jordan Spieth, 19, briefly rose to the top of the leader board before giving back four strokes to par in a four-hole stretch on the back nine. Included was a watery double bogey at No. 13.
“I just made some rookie mistakes that cost me. Otherwise, I’d be tied for the lead,” said Spieth, who stands at 7 under and is in need of a Sunday charge.
The same goes for defending champ Zach Johnson (8 under), who took his final birdie Saturday at No. 12 and remains within striking distance of becoming the first golfer since Ben Hogan (1952-53) to win Colonial titles in consecutive years. Johnson has cracked the Colonial top 10 the past four seasons but said he “didn’t execute” in enough key moments during a round of 68.
“As far as winning, frankly, it’s irrelevant in 2013,” Johnson said of his titles in 2010 and 2012. Kuchar agreed.
“To be the outright leader is nice,” said Kuchar, who scrambled for a pair of closing pars Saturday to secure that status. “I don’t think you want to be in any other position. It’s a good position to be in. Everybody has got to come get me.”
Based on Saturday’s leader board, lots of pursuers will have that chance.