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Friday, Aug 22, 2014
Golf

TBC title up for grabs as final day arrives

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PALM HARBOR -

Anything could happen for just about any golfer.

Of all the names in contention to take home the title at the Tampa Bay Championship at Innisbrook Resort, none particularly has an edge, and the field could produce its first rookie or unheralded winner, another repeat winner, a former major champ breaking a slump or a journeyman picking up his first PGA Tour win.

No matter what, today is poised to be wide open for anyone to take home the $990,000 first-place prize from the $5.5 million purse.

“I need to fire a good one (today) — anyone up there needs to,” 2010 winner and 2012 runner-up Jim Furyk said after shooting a 4-under-par 67 on Saturday. “There are plenty of us in sight.”

There’s a three-way tie atop the leaderboard at the par-71 Copperhead course, including Kevin Streelman, who carded a Saturday-low 65 to jump to 6 under. Streelman, a 34-year-old making his 153rd start on the PGA Tour, is seeking his first professional win after finishing tied for third on three occasions.

Joining him at 6 under are Justin Leonard (67) and George Coetzee (68).

Streelman, making his sixth start at Copperhead, has had his “struggles” at this tournament, including in 2008 when he proceeded to shoot the record for 18 holes after making the cut by carding a third-round 84.

“It’s a fairway/greens-type golf course,” said Streelman, who had a top-10 finish here in 2012. “I’m going to stay aggressive, but if you start making pars, you’re not going to win this golf tournament.”

Leonard, the 1997 British Open champ and 1999 Ryder Cup hero, is searching for not only his 13th PGA Tour win, but also his first since the 2008 FedEx St. Jude Classic, a span of 122 events. Leonard had four birdies between holes 8-12, but bogeyed 15, plus had a chance to birdie the par-3 17th but missed a 5-footer.

“I was a little surprised how much that putt broke (but) it feels good (to be on top),” said Leonard, who is paired with Streelman today, teeing off at 1:50 p.m. “I (also) know it’s just Saturday, but I know that being on top is a very familiar feeling. It’s been a while, but it does feel good again.”

Leonard was last in contention in 2011 at the St. Jude’s Hospital Classic, where he finished second. Coetzee, ranked No. 42 in the world and playing on a sponsor’s exemption, has had three top-10 finishes this season, including a second-place tie at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters on the European Tour.

“(Getting this win would mean getting) a (PGA Tour) card,” said Coetzee, who holed a 34-yard pitch on the 17th to grab a share of the lead. “That would be nice. That’s the thing I’ve been working on this year. … I was battling to make the cut and I birdied the last three holes (Friday), or else I wouldn’t be standing here.”

On the heels of the three leaders are four players one shot back: Furyk, Ben Kohles (69), Greg Chalmers (69) and Tag Ridings (70).

“It’s getting tough out there and it’s just going to get tougher,” said Kohles, who birdied the first two holes of The Snake Pit, but bogeyed 18 by missing a 5-foot, 4-inch putt. “You’ve got to be in the fairway coming into these greens and careful playing into the greens.”

Rookie Shawn Stefani, the 36-hole leader, struggled out of the gate Saturday, shooting a 40 on the front nine but recovered enough to save a 3-over 74 and was 4 under along with defending champ Luke Donald (67), Bryce Molder (68), 19-year-old Jordan Spieth (69) and lefty Brian Harman (72).

Stefani’s playing partner, Australian Adam Scott, shot a 5-over 76 as part of the last pairing.

“You know, in college, you play tracks similar to this,” said Spieth, a Texas alum. “They’re really difficult tracks with tough pins, and then here, it’s a step up in competition, which is the difference from here and college.”

Two-time tournament winner K.J. Choi struggled just as much as Scott, also shooting 75 after starting the day tied for second.

Streelman, meanwhile, hopes to keep his past struggles at bay today.

“I wanted to get to 6 under (Saturday) — I had that number in mind to at least have a chance (today),” he said. “I’m not going to worry about having a two-stroke lead going into anything. Either way, I’m going to stick to what I’ve been doing and that should do it.”

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