Things have hit a bit of a standstill the last two days at TPC San Antonio, the host of the Valero Texas Open. In deteriorating conditions, red numbers have become scarce.
How scarce? After round one, the leader was at -6. Now, 36 holes later, the leader is -8, and only two others in the field are lower than that -6. Adam Hadwin, the breakout Canadian who shot a 59 earlier this year, endured a back nine that was more painful to watch than a Gregg Popovich press conference: five bogeys and two doubles between 10-18 lead to a 10-over 82.
The only thing uglier was Steven Alker’s back nine, which was actually the front nine. Alker started the back triple-bogey, par, sextuple-bogey, bogey, eventually limping into the clubhouse with a 13-over 85, and THAT was from a guy who was in a tie for second place after the opening-round.
After all the havoc TPC San Antonio wreaked on the third round field, one player was left on top: Kevin Chappell. Despite three bogeys and a double on the front, Chappell rebounded to post a 1-under 71, which was good enough to get him to -8 and the 54-hole lead.
A win tomorrow would be a tremendous milestone for Chappell, who has yet to win on Tour, finishing runner-up four times in 2016.
Chappell is up one stroke on Branden Grace and John Huh, but a whopping 26 golfers are within five strokes of that lead.
1 Kevin Chappell -8
T2 Branden Grace, John Huh -7
T4 Ryan Palmer, Carl Pettersson, Martin Laird, Kevin Tway, Bud Cauley, Tony Finau, Cameron Smith -6
11 Brian Gay -5
T12 Brooks Koepka, Camilo Villegas, Bob Estes -4
T19 Ryan Moore, Jimmy Walker -3
T35 Stewart Cink, Charley Hoffman E
T44 Smylie Kaufman +1
T50 Graeme McDowell, Andrew “Beef” Johnston +2
T59 Matt Kuchar, Justin Leonard +3
How the Leader Did It
It was a tale of two nines for Chappell, who has put himself in his best position yet to win during his disappointing 2017 season.
Getting that career win #1 on Sunday would certainly turn his season around. Chappell struggled badly on the front nine with bogeys on 1, 4, and 9, and a double-bogey on 6.
Fortunately, three birdies in that same stretch prevented his round from going completely off the rails, and once he found a rhythm on the back nine, he ended up putting together a respectable round.
That back nine was bogey-free with three birdies over the last five holes, a finish that should give him confidence going into tomorrow.
Great Saturday Rounds
The round of the day came from Texas native Ryan Palmer, who shot his second consecutive four-under 68 to make a leap into a tie for fourth place.
Palmer somehow escaped his round with just one bogey, a 4 on 13 after missing a 5-foot par putt. Aside from that one gaffe, Palmer was tremendous on the greens, gaining over three strokes on the field with his putting.
After missing five cuts in his first seven events of 2017, Palmer finished T11 at last week’s RBC Heritage, and has been able to carry that momentum into the Valero.
The only golfer within one stroke of that -4 Saturday was Camilo Villegas, who had six birdies on the day to post a surprising 3-under 69. His great round came in spite of hitting just 50% of his fairways and only hitting 38% of his greens in regulation.
Now at -4 for the tournament, a win would be a tremendous boost to a man whose game has been in shambles for the past three years.
Round-one leader Branden Grace fell back a bit on Friday with a 1-over 73, but he was steady on Saturday, with just two bogeys to four birdies as he posted a 2-under 70. Grace is now just one back of Chappell, and will be paired with him in Sunday’s final group.
Tony Finau had the round of the tournament on Friday, a 7-under 65 that moved him into a 36-hole tie for the lead with Bud Cauley. Finau was unable to get much going on Saturday, needing two late birdies to at least salvage his tournament hopes. He shot a two-over 74, but is still just two back of the lead.
Neither Finau nor Cauley, who were paired in the final group today, were able to make a circle on their scorecard until they both birdied 14 – playing the first 13 to a combined birdie-free 6-over.
Bob Estes, the long-time Tour vet, was maybe the best story of the first two rounds, but the 51-year-old ran out of gas on Saturday.
With five bogeys to just two birdies, Estes exited round three with a 75, and is now four strokes behind Chappell.
Jonathan Randolph was -6 through the first two rounds and played his front nine on Saturday at 3-under-par. But the wheels came off early on the back and a 3-over 75 knocked him out of the top 10 and into a tie for 19th place.
“I just needed to find a rhythm. Obviously, the course hit me hard in the chin early, and I couldn’t find a rhythm, couldn’t find a rhythm, and then to make the turn at only two over after some of the places I hit it, I was confident that if I could get to 14 tee at two-over or better, I could post a score, and then to birdie 14, 16, 17 obviously felt sweet.”
~ Kevin Chappell, 54-hole Leader