Steve Stricker stumbled during the final nine holes of the third round of the Memorial Tournament on Saturday, but maintained a three-stroke lead heading into the final round.
Stricker, who shot a hole-in-one and a birdie on the final two holes of the second round Friday, appeared to be distancing himself permanently from the Memorial field Saturday after posting two eagles and two birdies, improving to 14-under-par.
Stricker said his confidence was high after the front nine.
“It was a perfect start,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for anything more, really.”
Then Stricker made the turn, and things turned ugly.
Difficulties for Stricker on the back nine began on the 14th hole when he missed a birdie putt that would have dropped his score to 15-under-par.
Stricker was visibly disturbed during his pre-shot routine, stepping away from the ball twice before missing the putt.
“I was worried about the guy teeing off at 15,” he said. “Then, when I was ready to go again, a big gust of wind came up, and I had to hit that putt so soft that I was worried about any amount of wind would push it off line. I just wasn’t comfortable.”
Stricker’s difficulties continued on Muirfield Village Golf Club’s home stretch — he bogeyed the 15th and 16th holes, and missed an eight-foot birdie putt on the 17th. Stricker saved par on 18 to close out his round with a 69, bringing his three-day total score to 204.
“Just kind of a little disappointing that I kind of let it slip away on the back nine,” Stricker said. “Didn’t really finish the round like I had hoped.”
Though Stricker fell to 12-under-par after the third round, his play impressed other competitors, including Brandt Jobe.
“What he’s doing, making shots, making it hard on us,” said Jobe, who sits four shots behind Stricker at 8-under-par. “He’s obviously playing great.”
Jobe also said pressure will be on Stricker during the final round Sunday.
“When you’re leading by (three) shots,” he said, “it’s your tournament to lose.”
Stricker, who never has lost a tournament when leading after 54 holes, said he is confident heading into the final round.
“All in all, a good day,” he said. “Sixty-nine around here is a good score. Still got a three-shot lead, so I’m in good position heading into Sunday.”
Jonathan Byrd, who posted a 69 on Saturday to move to 9-under-par, is Stricker’s nearest competitor. Byrd and Stricker, the Memorial’s final pairing, will tee off at 1:35 p.m. Sunday.