Aug 07, 2010 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
An all-out assault on par marked Saturday’s third round of the Turning Stone Resort Championship – but it was the last birdie streak that had the biggest impact.
Alex Cejka, nearly forgotten in a flurry of low scores, had the best possible finish to seize a two-shot lead over Chris Couch heading into Sunday’s final round.
Cejka birdied the 16th, 17th and 18th holes to finish with a five-under-par 67. His 54-hole total of 201, 15 under par, left him ahead of Couch, whose 63 tied the Atunyote Golf Club course record and put him at 203, 13 under par.
Billy Mayfair parlayed a third-round 66 into a third-place total of 204, 12 under par. Four players – Charles Warren, Bill Lunde, Robert Garrigus and Chris Tidland – are at 205, four shots back.
Warm sunshine and blue skies greeted the field of 72 that survived the 36-hole cut. More importantly, the fierce winds that marked Friday’s second round were gone, and Atunyote was left vulnerable to golfers hungry to go low.
And go low they did. The field averaged 69.11, more than two shots better than the second round, and that included the four best rounds of the tournament.
Scott McCarron set the tone with an early 64 in the third pairing of the morning, and Lunde also reached that number. Then Warren, propelled by an eagle on the 12th hole, charged home with a 63 to match Peter Lonard’s 2009 course record and take the lead an hour before Cejka took off.
With the red numbers so prevalent, four different players would grab the lead during the afternoon, though none of them would finish in front.
Mayfair, who started at six under, had the hottest front nine of the tournament, streaking to a 30 that featured five straight birdies from the 5th to 9th holes. Just as quickly, though, Mayfair cooled off, only making pars the rest of the way.
Then Couch stepped up. Having won just once before (in New Orleans in 2006), he moved to the edge of contention with a front-nine 32, then really took off on the back nine.
Couch got four straight birdies from 12 through 15. When he reached the par-5 18th green in two shots and recorded a two-putt birdie, he matched Warren’s 63, seized the lead in the clubhouse, and waited to see who could catch him.
Rory Sabbatini, who started one back of Cejka, appeared ready for that role by going four under through 13 holes. Then a three-putt bogey on 14 began a downturn that included bogeys on 15 and 18.
Tidland, in the last pairing, made four birdies in six holes from 9 through 14 to tie for the lead, but a bogey on 14 and double bogey on 17 cost him that top spot.
While all this was going on, Cejka seemed to disappear. He fell three shots back when he bogeyed the 2nd hole, but started his recovery by nearly holing his approach shot on the 4th hole and getting a birdie on 5, too.
The patient part followed, as Cejka made just one birdie in the next 11 holes (on 12), but parred the rest, and arrived at the 16th tee one shot behind Couch.
Then the magic began.
A 6-iron on the par-3 16th went the perfect distance to six feet, and Cejka made birdie to tie Couch. An even better iron on the par-4 17th finished four feet from the hole and led to a go-ahead birdie.
And on the 18th, Cejka covered the 624 yards in two mammoth shots, then smartly two-putted to double his lead with a round to go.
This is no sure thing. Twice before – at the 2009 Players Championship, then again this year in New Orleans – Cejka held 54-hole leads, then watched someone else win.
Play begins at 7:35 a.m. Sunday morning. at 12:50, Cejka and Couch tee off, with a big pack of pursuers willing to attack Atunyote again.
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