Leader of crowded pack
Roenick has plenty of company atop the leader board
STATELINE — The logjam at the top of the 25th annual American Century Championship is reminiscent of the Bay Bridge during commute time.
Former NHL hockey great Jeremy Roenick had a 25-point day en route to a total of 48 points after 36 holes over the always tough Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.
Roenick has a 4-point lead over Iraq war veteran Chad Pfeifer, five points over former champ Mark Rypien and six over former LPGA great Annika Sorenstam and two-time champion Jack Wagner. ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer is sixth with 41. Former St. Louis pitcher Mark Mulder put together a 25-point day and sits in seventh place at 40 points.
Sterling Sharpe (39), Eric Gagne (38) and Carson Palmer (38) round out the top 10. Josh Scobee, defending champ Billy Joe Tolliver and John Smoltz are at 37.
Roenick actually shot a 3-under-par 69 on his own ball, registering four birdies (4, 8,16 and 17) and one bogey.
The back-to-back birdies enabled him to put some space between him and Pfeifer.
“I hit the ball really strong,” said Roenick as he heads into today’s final round. “So far I’ve hit the ball where I wanted it, and I’ve made one mistake. I had a little 3-putt, unfortunately, on 6. But besides that, I’ve hit the ball exactly where I want to hit it. I’ve been fortunate to do what I wanted. Had a couple of putts fall, so it’s good.”
Pfeifer, meanwhile, started with five straight pars. He birdied the par-4 6th and then bogeyed three straight holes to finish the front with nine points. He picked up three points with pars at 10, 11 and 13 before dropping in back-to-back birdie putts at 14 and 15 to get to 42 points. He parred 16 and 18 to get to 44.
“It feels great,” Pfeifer said. “And like I said yesterday, if I could play my game, I felt that I could be up with the contenders, so it feels good.
“I think I struggled with a few short putts today. But other than that, I mean, I’m happy with how it’s going.”
Pfeifer has impressed other players in the field with his swing.
“This guy, Chad, hits the golf ball as well as anybody I’ve seen,” said Rypien. “I’m talking Tour guys I’ve played with. He hits the golf ball as good as anybody I’ve seen. Work a little bit with that putter, and he could run away with this dang thing. He’s playing great.”
“I think watching Chad and what Mark said about the way that Chad hits the ball, it’s truly spectacular to watch him strike the ball. There’s no handicap in him. There’s no handicap in Chad, in my opinion,” Roenick said. “This guy is a true blue competitor.”
Rypien recorded three birdies — 4, 14 and 16 — and two bogeys.
“I am just kind of hanging in there,” Rypien said. “Like all of us, we’ve all had putts for birdie. The one thing that’s hard to do here in Tahoe is make putts.”
Sorenstam put together 12 pars, three birdies and three bogeys. She would have shot 72 on her own ball.
“I felt a lot better today, just standing on the first tee,” said Sorenstam. “I didn’t feel as tight and as nervous. The front nine was one of the worst putting displays that I can recall certainly in the last six years.
“I was trying to be positive and keep reminding myself to extend to the target and just see the ball going in and it just really didn’t happen on the front nine. I got a little upset at myself and said ‘let’s play aggressive.’ We all know if you’re never up you’re never in. That was my motive for the back nine.”
Trailing by six points, Sorenstam said the plan is simple. She will be shooting for pins from the outset.
“Yeah, I think that’s the only way,” she said. “I’m hitting fairways and I’m hitting greens. I have had many opportunities. It’s just on the greens I’ve been unable to perform. I’m going to fire a little more at the pins and then wherever I am I just feel like this is more of a match play (event) and go for the pins and not have the lag putting that I’m doing.”
Dilfer also said a fast start is key. He has given away two potential titles on the back nine, and he doesn’t want that to happen again. He also wants to play the par-5s better.
“One, I’ve never played the par 5s well (here),” said Dilfer said. “I played them as bad as anybody in the field. I don’t know why. I’m not long but I’m not short. I can get to all of them in three.
“I haven’t put good shots together on par 5s here. I’ve tried to identify it. I’m even on them after two days, which is disgusting. At the end of the day that’s what it is. I haven’t played the par 5s well enough. I’ve got to play them well. I’ve got to get an eagle. I gotta play them at least 4-under (today) to have a chance. And I haven’t done that in years past.”
Roenick was seen apparently flipping off a fan on the 14th hole. It turned out that it was a friend of Roenick’s.
“So anybody that saw that on television or whatever, I was having fun to a very, very good friend of mine who was giving me a lot of crap from the sidelines,” Roenick said. “So I apologize if anybody saw that little gesture, but I was having a little fun with a friend of mine.”
“He (Roenick) hit an unbelievable bunker shot to about four feet,” Rypien said. “Of course his buddy goes, ‘Annika hit it better than you did.’”