STATELINE – Mark Mulder has won the last two American Century Championships with impressive come-from-behind performances in the final round.
Mulder, who’s going for the first three-peat in tournament history, finds himself atop the leaderboard this year with 48 points after a 26-point effort Saturday afternoon at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
Mulder leads ex-tennis star Mardy Fish and former Boston pitcher Derek Lowe by three points entering today’s final round of the 28th annual event. Chad Pfeiffer is six points back at 42 following a 23-point effort, and John Smoltz is at 41. Aaron Rodgers, Joe Pavelski and Marshall Faulk are tied for sixth with 38. Blair O’Neal and John Elway round out the top 10 with 37 and 36 points, respectively.
Mulder birdied three holes on the front side (Nos. 4, 6, 8) and two on the back (Nos. 13 and 14). He finished his round with four straight pars.
“I’m happy with where I’m at,” Mulder said. “I had a lot of chances today to make a lot of putts. I made some difficult ones, but I also missed some easier ones. It was a decent round. I hit the ball OK; didn’t get in a lot of trouble. For the most part made the putts that I needed to make.
“Yeah, the last two years I was down five points both years going into that final round, so this is a little different. But it’s not going to change my mindset or my approach. It’s not going to be any different. I’m going to go out there, try to make as many birdies as I possibly can and see what happens. That’s just the way I play. I kind of keep my head down. I try not to pay attention to a lot of things that are going on. I’m just focusing from shot to shot.”
Mulder said he doesn’t feel pressure going into the last round except from his three kids. He said they’re asking him when they get to go to the tournament where they get to run on the green at the end.
Mulder has had final rounds of 29 last year and 30 the year before. No doubt he’d like to match or better that today. He believes it will take something in the mid-70s to win the event.
“Somebody at the top there is going to put up a 25 to 30, and I hope it’s me,” Mulder said. “But the reality is that somebody is going to do it. So I would look at 75 or higher would kind of be my goal finishing tomorrow.”
“We talked about this before the tournament, that we wanted him to be leading going into the last day,” said Fish, amid laughter in the press room. “So we have him right where we want him.”
Fish has had rounds of 27 and 28 in past tournaments, and if he can get his putting stroke going, he’s capable of a come-from-behind win. He lost by five points last year.
Fish managed birdies on Nos. 4, 9 and 12, and he said he should have had at least three more.
“Pretty much most of the time we can sit here and say that (about my putting),” he said in the interview room. “I missed three inside five feet all for birdie (16, 17, 18).”
Lowe, the first-round leader with 25 points, stayed in the hunt despite some big problems on the back nine, including a two-shot penalty for an illegal drop, leading to a double-bogey on the 14th. He also doubled the par-3 17th.
Lowe drove the ball into a lateral hazard and improperly dropped the ball, according to Bobby Hall, a rules official.
“He dropped more than two club lengths from the last point that it crossed the margin of the hazard,” Hall said. “And the other option to keep that between him and the hole was not available to him, and also he could have returned to the tee.
“But he didn’t exercise those options. He tried to drop under Rule 24(3)(c), but he dropped improperly. So it was a two-shot penalty, and he made 7 on No. 14.”
The move made Lowe’s score on the hole go from zero to a minus-2. Not the end of the world, but a pretty big deal nonetheless.
“Yeah, it was an easy front nine, rough back nine,” Lowe said. “Obviously I illegally dropped on 14 and struggled on 16 and 17. I was lucky to make a bogey on 16 and doubled 17.”
Lowe had birdies on Nos. 1 and 4 on the front and 10, 15 and 18 on the back.
Pfeiffer shook off a bogey on the opening hole and a double on the par-5 4th to finish with 23 points on the day. He ended the day with five birdies, and putting will be the key for him today in the final round.
“I just have to stick to my game,” Pfeifer said. “I’m sure that’s what these guys will be doing. That is all I can do. I’m not going to find an extra 40 yards off the tee box overnight.
“I just stick to my game, just keep rolling the ball and just hope they keep dropping.”