Leonard, Chappell tied for Disney lead
AP Golf Writer
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) – Justin Leonard took his hand off the club not long after contact on the fifth fairway, unhappy with another shot that was not up to his standards, knowing he would have to scramble just to avoid dropping another shot.
From 70 feet away, his chip-and-run banged into the pin and dropped for a birdie.
His 3-wood into the par-4 ninth sailed into the gallery, leaving him behind a bunker some 35 yards from the flag, such a tough shot that he was hopeful of getting it close enough for a reasonable putt at par. He holed that for birdie, too.
Leonard has been used to these kind of days in what has become his worst year on tour. Saturday at Disney, he managed to turn it into a 70 that put him in a tie for the lead with PGA Tour rookie Kevin Chappell in the Children’s Miracle Network Classic.
“Today, I scored,” Leonard said. “And it’s something I have not been doing at all this entire year.”
Chappell was much more consistent in a round of 66, overcoming a bogey on the opening hole and giving himself a steady diet of 10- to 15-foot birdie putts throughout the day on the Magnolia Course.
They were at 14-under 202, one shot ahead of 21-year-old Bio Kim, who needs at least a two-way tie for second to secure his tour card for next year.
The race for the PGA Tour money title had some possibilities, but only briefly.
Luke Donald, who trails Webb Simpson by $363,029, was tied for fourth when he reached the par-5 14th hole. Donald was only three shots out of the lead and three shots ahead of Simpson. When he walked off the green, Donald was in a tie for 14th, tied with Simpson and six shots behind.
For the second straight day, Donald hit a shot into the hazard on the 14th. He three-putted for double bogey, ending his PGA Tour streak of 483 holes without a three-putt. He had to settle for a 70, while Simpson shot 69 to move one ahead of Donald, and only four shots behind the leaders.
“Yesterday I hit a dozen really poor shots, shot 71 and today I hit two really poor shots, but unfortunately they cost me and almost shot the same score,” Donald said. “It’s just the way golf is sometimes.”
Simpson is likely to win the money title at this stage, as Donald would need no worse than a two-way tie for second. He was tied for 14th, five shots behind. Donald figured he would need a 62 in the final round.
“I’m a little more confident than I was two hours ago,” Simpson said, not making it clear if he was talking about his 32 on the back nine or his chances of capturing the money list.
Leonard, who is No. 144 on the money list, is moderately surprised to be atop the leaderboard in the final tournament of his worst season on tour. Even though he already is exempt for next season, he has never finished out of the top 125 on the money list. And he hasn’t been playing much golf late in the afternoon on the weekend.
This was the kind of round that could have easily gotten away from him. He opened with a sloppy bogey on the opening hole, and then some exquisite play with his short game.
The par-5 fourth hole won’t get as much attention, but it might have been his best shot. From the back of a bunker, facing a shot in which the green ran away from him, it came out clean and stopped 2 feet away for birdie. On the fifth, he chipped in from 70 feet when he was hopeful of getting par.
He used the belly of his wedge to roll in a shot from just off the eighth green, and he hit a flop shot from 35 yards that dropped in for the most unlikely birdie on the ninth.
At the time, Leonard was swapping spots atop the leaderboard with Henrik Stenson, who even traded some short-game magic by holing out from a bunker on No. 6, right after Leonard’s long chip-in for birdie. When Leonard rolled in the shot from off the eighth green, Stenson poked him in the behind with his putter and said, “That’s two, now.”
“The strength of my round was definitely from off the green,” Leonard said, smiling. “I certainly didn’t play great today, and to be able to hole … really the two shots, 5 and 9, from off the green certainly is a huge boost. There are days when those things don’t go our way, and the round can get away from me.”
There is plenty of work ahead. Leonard is atop the leaderboard going into the final round for the first time since Disney two years ago, when he lost in a playoff to Stephen Ames. Sunday will be only the third time Leonard has been at least tied for the lead going into the last round in the last six years. He didn’t win the other two.
Eleven players were within four shots of the lead, a group that includes Simpson and five players who are trying to get inside the top 125 on the money list to secure their tour cards for next year.
Kim is at No. 168 and appeared to fall from the pack when he drove into the woods on No. 5 and wound up with a double bogey to fall three shots behind. That was the last mistake he made, however, and with three birdies on the back nine, he is only one shot behind going into Sunday.
Nick O’Hern had a 70, while Stenson dropped two shots over the last five holes for a 72. They were at 12-under 204.
Chappell gives himself a C-plus for his rookie season. He played well down the stretch at the Texas Open only to finish second behind Brendan Steele, and a solid weekend at Congressional gave him a tie for third in the U.S. Open. That puts him in the Masters for next year, so Chappell has few complaints.
He is No. 83 on the money list and is only playing Disney to try to end the year on a good note. Winning would be ideal, and he looked comfortable throughout the day as he worked his way into a share of the lead.