GOLF: Laird leads Levin by 2 after 54
AP Golf Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. – Martin Laird already had lost a four-shot lead Saturday at Bay Hill, and as his 6-iron on the par-3 17th began to fade weakly toward the pond, he wondered if a two-shot lead would disappear even quicker.
He was happy to see it land in the bunker, some 80 feet from the flag. Then came a long blast from the sand to 6 feet, and a par save that felt like a birdie. It was like that all day at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, only one thing didn’t change.
Laird never surrendered the lead.
The 28-year-old Scot made it through an up-and-down day with a 2-under 70 and had a two-shot lead over Spencer Levin.
“That was a big one,” Laird said of his par save on the 17th, one hole after a two-shot swing gave him a cushion. “I was lucky. I wasn’t sure if it was going to make it over the water, to be honest, when it was in the air. And I was lucky to make it over, and then that was a big up-and-down.”
Now comes the hard part.
Laird was at 11-under 205. This is the third time in his last 12 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour that he has been atop the leaderboard going into the final round, and the last two ended with someone else celebrating. At The Barclays, it was Matt Kuchar hitting a 7-iron to 30 inches to beat him in a playoff. In Las Vegas, it was Jonathan Byrd making a hole-in-one to win a three-man playoff.
Levin, who had to scramble for bogey on the easy 16th to fall two shots behind, put his troubles behind him quickly and finished off a 71 to get into the final group.
That’s not to say it will be a two-man race.
With wind in the forecast, six players are separated by five shots. That includes two players who appear to be getting closer to their first PGA Tour win, Steve Marino and Rickie Fowler.
It does not include Tiger Woods.
The six-time Bay Hill winner had another Saturday swoon, trading an eagle and birdies with bogeys and a double bogey that sent him to a 2-over 74 and left him 10 shots out of the lead.
“Hopefully, the wind blows tomorrow and I can post a good one,” Woods said. “And I can get a little momentum going into Augusta.”
Others are simply trying to get there, starting with Levin. Nothing short of a victory would send him to the Masters.
“That’s in the back of my mind, for sure,” Levin said. “That’s a nice thing to be thinking about – hopefully, try not to think about it, though. You have to think about what you’re doing here.”
Laird ran off three straight birdies early in the round to build a four-shot lead. Four holes later, Levin pulled within one shot and they were tied for the lead with three holes to play.
That’s when it turned in the Scot’s favor.
Laird got up-and-down for birdie from just right of the green on the 16th, while Levin was in trouble from the start. He drove into the trees, chipped out into a bunker and then pulled his third shot into the water. He had to make a 6-foot putt to escape with bogey on the easiest hole at Bay Hill.
“I know tomorrow I have to concentrate hard … and hopefully I’ll wind up on top,” Laird said.