A blustery Saturday on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook certainly shook the field around. It couldn’t budge Adam Schenk from top spot but he’ll have his work cut out in search of the first PGA Tour title, needing to hold off the challenge of Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood who share second.
Schenk has carded 66-69-70 to total 8-under 205 through 54 holes, one clear of Spieth (67-70-69) and Fleetwood (68-69-69), with Webb Simpson (71-68-68), Taylor Moore (71-67-69) and Cody Gribble (72-65-70) a further shot back while Patton Kizzire, Wyndham Clark and Matt Wallace will retain hopes of a title bid just three back on 5-under in a share of seventh.
Can anyone further back win? 18 of 21 Innisbrook winners were within three at this stage but it can happen. Charl Schwartzel in 2016 and Paul Casey in 2018 were both five back with 18 holes to play in eighth and T11th respectively.
Three of Ben Coley’s pre-event picks are in a tie for 10th on 4-under, looking for the top eight to pay out the place: Davis Riley, David Lingmerth and Dylan Wu (tipped at 35/1, 100/1 and 200/1). They need a low score and difficulties at the sharp end of the leaderboard but they’re not out of it, not least because that top half dozen includes four fellows chasing a first triumph at this level and a pair of multiple winners tying to rediscover the knack of Sunday success.
Spieth is the favourite and there is a slight sense of deja vu about these early months of the year. Remember this time 2021? He got himself genuinely into contention three times and kept repeating that he was reacquainting himself with the heat of battle before he did complete a win at the Texas Open. Last year he nearly won at Pebble Beach before completing success at Harbour Town.
This year he briefly led the field at Waialae, contended at Scottsdale and Bay Hill, does so again this week and he came to Innisbrook because he’s comfortable on the course. “We’re a few weeks away from the Masters so obviously you pick a schedule that you feel like you’re going to be in form, but also rested enough for the Masters. I think it’s a great golf course, a great test, it’s good for my game. I play it well historically.”
If all that is good, when asked about the wild ride of Saturday (five bogeys, five birdies, one eagle) and what might be churning inside he answered, “unfortunately, a lot,” before adding that he has been more “neutral in Florida” than he was earlier in the year. A past winner on the course he’s best price 3/1 heading into the final round. The numbers back up that he’s struggling to convert. He’s won once in the last nine times he’s been tied second or better at this point after doing so 10 times in the 14 previous efforts.
Englishman Fleetwood believes this week’s performance has been coming. “I’ve not been playing too bad,” he said of early year efforts that didn’t look great on paper before adding of last week’s third round 65 at Sawgrass: “Showed some great signs. Sort of had a tough Sunday (76). But this week I’ve had good attitude, played some really good golf and putted much better for three days. Holed out really well and made some really good par saves. That’s the massive key really.”
He’s also chipper about the test. “I enjoy the atmosphere. I love the golf course. I like playing golf on these very, very tough Florida tests. They require a lot of ball control, a lot of patience and generally you get the guys that are playing really well up there at the top of the leaderboard so I’ve always enjoyed that.” He’s 4/1.
Schenk was in this very position earlier this season at Summerlin last Fall and was passed by Sungjae Im. That’s no bad thing but the way he kept turning questions towards his difficulty hitting cuts was entertaining if maybe not ideal. “I think the hot mic picked me up a couple times making fun of myself with how bad I am cutting it yesterday,” he said after his third round. “I did a better job of that today. I still hit a spectator, but last year it would have been spectator 20 yards left, this year it was a spectator a little bit further right. Hopefully tomorrow it will be in the fairway right.” He can be backed at 9/2.
Simpson is an intriguing case. From his win at Sawgrass in 2018 he landed 26 top 20 finishes on Bermuda greens in just 33 starts. Since then he’s gone 14 without one. Is he ready to resume winning (he has seven titles on the PGA Tour)?
“I’m just happy to have a late tee time on a Saturday,” he said after the third round. “We have gotten tired of waking up at 7 a.m. on Saturdays when I just made cuts. It feels great. The nerves are there in a good way. It’s fun to be back but it’s been awhile. More than expecting or hoping to win tomorrow I’m just glad I have a chance. The work we’ve done the last few weeks is paying off.” He’s 12/1.
Moore is 11/1 and will need to break the habit of carding a final round 74 on this Florida Swing (his only other Florida final round at this level was a 77), while Gribble is riding the wave after his seventh place in Puerto Rico – that was a first top 10 on the PGA Tour since his win in October 2016.
Of them all I like Fleetwood the best. He’s ranking third in the field for Strokes Gained Tee to Green, 21st on the Greens, he’s relishing the grind – this could be his first winning Sunday in America.
Posted at 1003 GMT on 18/03/23