Kraft, Varner III carry tie into final round
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — The clouds, the rain and even the humidity were gone at the Old White TPC golf course, and suddenly warm, dry and fast conditions gave a negative connotation to “moving day” during Saturday’s third round at A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.
PGA Tour players who were able to turn in elusive low rounds were rewarded greatly on the leader-board, and that included Harold Varner III, whose 4-under-par 66 moved him into a tie for the lead with second-round leader Kelly Kraft. Kraft settled for a 1-under-par 69 as he and Varner will enter Sunday’s final round together in the final group at 14-under.
Defending champion Xander Schauffele and Kevin Na also registered good rounds as both finished with 5-under 65s and will make up the second-to-last group at minus-13, just one back of the lead. Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, has solo possession of fifth place at 12-under. In all, 17 players will be within five shots of the lead on the final day.
Varner parred his first 10 holes and Kraft was even through his first nine, and on a day when the Old White TPC finally gnashed its teeth — just ask Webb Simpson, who shot a 6-over 76 after a first-round 61 — steady definitely won the race.
“Just trying to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens,”
A MILITARY TRIBUTE AT THE GREENBRIER
Golf Channel, 1 to 2:45 p.m.
WOWK-13 (CBS), 3 to 6 p.m.
PGA Tour Radio on Sirius XM, 1 to 6 p.m.
Schedule of events Sunday
8 a.m., gates open
All day, tournament final round
6 p.m., awards ceremony
Varner said. “It was nice I got on seven tee and I was still only three shots back and I was just like, ‘Just keep playing golf, man. Something good is going to happen.’ With a good attitude — and I’m playing so well I think good things — I’m bound to do something great.”
The back nine was certainly of the “great” variety for Varner, who birdied Nos. 11, 12, 14 and 17 to come in at 32. He finished just ahead of Kraft — though at the time his round concluded he was still trailing — but Kraft couldn’t maintain the momentum he gained with birdies at Nos. 10, 11 and 12. He bogeyed No. 16 and No. 18, giving back two shots and leaving him tied with Varner.
“I hit a lot of good shots today,” Kraft said. “The greens got really kind of crusty and hard out there, different than the first couple days and especially on the back nine. There were two or three greens that were just, they were borderline rolling too fast, so you kind of had to feel it in your feet before you putted and realize that some greens out there were just quicker than others, and I struggled with my speed a little bit.”
Kraft was second and sixth in the first and second rounds, respectively, in strokes gained putting. On Saturday he was 56th, needing 31 putts to get around the Old White TPC, four more than either Thursday or Friday.
Schauffele’s round was spearheaded by a chip-in eagle out of the bunker on the par-5 17th hole, punctuating a solid effort that otherwise consisted of four birdies and one bogey. Coming from behind on Old White is nothing new for Schauffele, who didn’t have solo possession of the lead a year ago until the 18th hole in the final round.
“It’s moving day. You look at some of the scores, some guys are moving up,” Schauffele said. “We had a steady start and made a few birdies early and kind of hit a wall in the middle. But, yeah, it’s always important on Saturday to make some birdies early.”
Na and Schauffele might find themselves in the perfect position as no leader after any of the first three rounds has ever won the Tour event at White Sulphur Springs.
Perhaps no one is hungrier than Na, who is searching for his first Tour win in nearly seven years, since winning the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Oct. 2, 2011. Na made reference to that, saying time is running out to make good on a vow he made concerning that lone win.
“Every time I get in contention, I’m hungry to win,” Na said. “When I won, it took me eight years and I told everybody that it will not take that long to win my second one, and I’m running out of time. Hopefully I get this done.”
Na was one of several players to talk about the toughened-up track, and he along with the other leaders found it even harder in the heat of the afternoon.
“I came out this morning and I was like, ‘If I can shoot another 63 today, it would be great,’ and I showed up this morning and I saw the putting green and I was like, ‘Oh, maybe a 66 would be OK,’ ” he said.
“The greens have really firmed up and they’re at least a foot to a foot and a half faster, and you have to be below the hole and you have to hit the fairway to have any spin on it going into those greens. The scoreboard just shows — obviously, there’s some low scores out there, but in general the scoring average is going to be a shot and a half, maybe two shots higher.”
By day’s end it was just over one shot higher, with Saturday’s average score at 69.753 and Friday’s at 68.636, but that doesn’t take into account players that missed the cut.
One other notable low round came from Bubba Watson, who also came in with a 5-under 65 to get to 11-under and suddenly just three shots back of the lead.
The two-time Masters champion and resident of The Green-brier has never missed the cut in five appearances here, but his career-best finish on the Old White TPC is a tie for 13th. Now tied for sixth, Watson is obviously in a position to better that and earn his fourth win on Tour this season.
“I’m hitting the ball good,” Watson said. “I know I’ve come back from six shots a couple times in my career. I don’t know what the lead’s going to be by the end of the day — it could be 20, it could be me — so I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I know I’m going to have to have a low one tomorrow. That’s the beauty of it that I did it a couple of weeks ago (at the Travelers Championship), so there’s always that chance.
“I’ll call myself a local boy. It would be good to have the trophy stay here.”
Second-round co-leader Anirban Lahiri shot a 1-over-par 71 and is tied with Watson and Joel Dahmen for sixth. Phil Mickelson shot an even-par 70 and remains at 5-under.