Congressional logjam: 4 tie for lead after 3 rounds

BETHESDA, Md. — A triple bogey for Bill Haas. Double bogeys for Andres Romero and Roberto Castro. They still wound up in a four-way tie for the lead in the AT&T National with James Driscoll, whose third round was pleasantly dull by comparison.

Castro put the perfect finishing touch on this most wild day at Congressional when he hit his approach into the water left of the 18th green, and then chipped in for par from 80 feet to salvage an even-par 71.

Haas made nine birdies and had to settle for a 68, courtesy of two wedge shots that cost him four shots, including his triple bogey on the beastly 11th hole. Romero had a three-shot lead at one point, and then it was gone. He went from the water to a bunker on the 11th for double bogey and followed that with a bogey on the next hole. He made six pars the rest of the way for a 70.

Driscoll He had a 68, the only player in the field to break 70 all three rounds. Coming off a bogey on the 15th, Driscoll though he might be headed for another with a poor tee shot. But he knocked a 4-iron out of the rough, barely got onto the green and rolled in a 25-foot birdie.

They were at 7-under 206.

Ten players were separated by four shots going into the final round, a group that includes 19-year-old Jordan Spieth.

He had a two-shot lead after opening with two straight birdies, and then went through a stretch of missing five putts inside 8 feet on a four-hole stretch. One of them was a three-putt from 5 feet for double bogey on No. 8. Spieth had a 74, though he’s still in the game, just three shots behind.

“Saving a bogey would have been huge,” Castro said. “Making a par is just a bonus.”

They were at 7-under 206, which means next to nothing — not with 10 players separated by three shots going into the final round, with seven of those players looking for their first PGA Tour victory.

“This is as good a chance as I’ve had for sure,” Driscoll said. “But there’s still 18 holes to go.”

Still in the mix is 19-year-old Jordan Spieth, who had a two-shot lead after opening with a pair of birdies. He also went through a five-hole stretch when he missed five putts inside 8 feet — including a three-putt from 5 feet for double bogey on No. 8. The Texas teen had a 74, though he’s still in the game, just three shots behind.

“Making a double on the easiest hole on the course, and then following up with bogey on a par 5 with a lob wedge in my hand, it was very difficult at the turn for me to stay calm and hit good shots to start the back nine,” Spieth said. “Maybe lost a couple of shots with my emotions there, which is upsetting. But like I said, I shot 5 under yesterday. I could shoot 5 under tomorrow and be in great position.”

Jason Kokrak had a 70 and was one shot out of the lead, while Charlie Wi had a 29 on the front nine and shot 65 to finish two shots behind, along with Tom Gillis (66). Spieth was in the group at 209 with Brandt Snedeker, who had a 69.

Haas might be better off except for a pair of wedges. One went into the water on the 11th leading to triple bogey, another came up short on the par-5 16th and led to a bogey. The bright side was his nine birdies to offset that triple and three bogeys.

“The back nine, I didn’t really know where I was going,” Haas said. “Luckily after that triple, I was able to hit three decent iron shots and then make the putt. Certainly, it could have been a 6-, 7-, 8-under day. But it also could have been a 4-, 5-, 6-over day if I hadn’t putted well. I don’t really know what to make of how I’m playing. Just got to hopefully do more good than bad tomorrow.”

Romero was the only player to reach 10 under at any point, with four birdies on the front nine, including a sand wedge out of ankle-deep rough left of the eighth fairway to about 5 feet. He was sailing along until he set up for a fade on the 11th hole and came off the shot, sending it into the hazard.

Castro’s problems were early, and not entirely up to him. After a bogey on the par-3 second hole when he was on the down slope of a bunker to a short pin, he hit a tee shot right of the third fairway. Just his luck, the ball landed in the soft sand at the edge of the grass and disappeared. The ball was buried under an inch of sand that Castro had to scrape away just to make sure the ball was his. He took a penalty shot to drop it in the middle of the bunker, couldn’t reach the green and made double bogey.

“Nothing good was going to happen if I swung at it,” he said. “And I thought, ‘If I dropped, pitched out, I could make bogey or double, which is not the end of the world.’ I didn’t need to sit there and make 8 or something.”

Through it all, the son of Peruvian parents with an industrial engineering degree from Georgia Tech never panicked.

“Over four days here, every player is going to hit kind of a rough patch,” Castro said. “I don’t see it being easy out here. ... So mine just came early today, and I just tried to survive it.”

It looked early on as though the more times Spieth put himself in contention, the more comfortable he would be. That only lasted a short time.

He opened with a 10-foot birdie putt and followed that with a tee shot that used the backstop perfectly on the par-3 second, the ball rolling back down the hill to 2 feet for a tap-in birdie. After a good par on the third hole, he had a two-shot lead.

Five holes later, he was four shots behind.

That’s how quickly the scores changed on a balmy Saturday at Congressional — not just for Spieth, but for everyone.

Spieth’s troubles began when he missed the green long and right on the fifth hole, leaving him a downhill chip to an elevated green. The best he could do was 15 feet and he missed his par putt, ending his streak of 33 straight holes without a bogey.

He missed an 8-foot birdie putt on the par-5 sixth. After hitting 3-wood into thick rough left of the fairway at No. 8 and hacking out short of the green, Spieth had a chance to save par until he three-putted from 5 feet. And on the ninth, his wedge spun off the front of the green and rolled down the hill, leading to another bogey. If that wasn’t enough, he missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the 10th.

“I think the way this course is set up with this thick of rough and narrow fairways, if you don’t drive it good, you can make bogey on any hole,” Haas said. “The greens are soft enough that if you hit good drives, you can hit it close. You’re seeing birdies, but you’re also seeing some loose shots gets penalized.”

Champions

Fred Couples in front at Senior Players: In Pittsburgh, Fred Couples watched Kenny Perry relentlessly sprint up the leaderboard Saturday in the Senior Players Championship and figured it was time for his putter to start cooperating.

Three birdies over the final five holes restored some order as Couples took a step closer to his first victory of the season.

The Hall of Famer finished with a 3-under 67 and was at 15-under 195 at rain-soaked and toothless Fox Chapel, two strokes clear of the hard-charging Perry. Couples already has three runner-up finishes this season. He has no plans to make it four.

“If I go out and play well, I have a great shot at winning,” Couples said. “I’m certainly not going to be thinking about second place.”

It appeared that’s all the rest of the field was playing for after Couples ripped off seven birdies in 11 holes of the second round Friday before a midafternoon downpour halted play for the day.

The deluge cooled off Couples a bit. He two-putted from 60 feet on the par-3 third when he returned to the course Saturday morning, then made five straight pars before finishing his round off with a birdie on the par-4 ninth for an 8-under 62.

Tying the record for the lowest score ever in a major on the Champions Tour should have provided Couples with some breathing room. Instead, Perry made it close.

Perry began the day as speck in Couples’ rearview mirror before the Kentucky player made three birdies and an eagle over the final six holes of the second round for a 7-under 63. He backed it up six hours later with another flawless 63, using his length off the tee and a new putter to chase down the frontrunning Couples.

After a lethargic 71 in the first round left him frustrated, Perry switched putters to one with more loft hoping it would help keep the ball online on the soggy and cleat-marked greens.

The decision paid off handsomely as Perry set a tournament record for the lowest score in consecutive rounds. The combined 14-under 126 Perry posted in the second and third rounds is two better than the 128 Jack Nicklaus shot in 1990 when the tournament was held in Dearborn, Mich.

Perry joked he was inspired by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He watched from the second row on Friday night as Pittsburgh crushed the Milwaukee Brewers 10-3 to move to 49-30 on the season, the best record in baseball.

“It was pretty awesome,” Perry said.

So were most of the scores at the rolling course about 10 miles up the Allegheny River from PNC Park. The rain during the week forced officials to allow players to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairways. The quick, treacherous test the players endured during their last visit to Fox Chapel a year ago instead looked like a pitch and putt for longer players like Perry and Couples.

“We played ball-in-hand for three days,” Perry said. “You know, you just see the scores go way down when you let the guys get ball in hand.”

Duffy Waldorf birdied his final two holes for a 66 to remain in striking distance at 11 under. First-round leader John Huston briefly tied Couples for the lead but faltered on the back nine, bogeying the last two holes to shoot 68 and finish five shots back of Couples. Mike Goodes had a 65 to match Huston at 10 under.

Perry didn’t falter, briefly creating a three-way logjam with Couples and Huston when Perry birdied the 12th and Couples three-putted the 10th green for bogey.

The missed opportunity seemed to wake Couples up.

Frustrated he wasn’t taking advantage of the soft conditions that led to Perry’s assault on the par-70 layout, Couples birdied Nos. 14 and 15, then capped his round with a splendid pitch from in front of the left bunker on the par-5 18th, allowing him to roll in a birdie.

Not bad for a guy who insists he was “outplayed” by Huston for most of the day by Huston before the final five holes.

Now Couples heads into Sunday searching for his third major title since joining the Champions Tour in 2010. He won the Senior Players in 2011 at Westchester Country Club in New York and the Senior British Open last year. He was in position to capture the Regions Tradition earlier this month but fell one shot short in a showdown with points leader David Frost.

This time it appears the duel will be with Perry, who is pain-free after dealing with knee problems earlier in the season.

Perry, who has undergone surgery on both knees during his career and takes medicine to deal with arthritis in the joints, called his recovery over the last two weeks “a miracle.” He took a cortisone shot in his left knee recently and has had fluid drained out of the joint, freeing him up to walk the course with relative ease.

“If you have had a need this long stuck in your knee with a big syringe sucking all that junk out of you, that’s not very pleasant,” Perry said. “But once they do it, immediately it gives you relief. The pressure’s off and you can actually bend your knee, you can actually walk.”

Perry will walk alongside Couples on Sunday as Perry looks for the first major title of his 31-year professional career.

“You’re going to see still a lot of good scores tomorrow,” Perry said. “So the guys that are near the lead, at the lead are going to have to play a good round of golf. Somebody’s going to have to shoot a good round tomorrow.”