Charley Hoffman didn’t hit the ball particularly well Saturday, didn’t chip as well as he would have liked and left himself in tough positions off the tee at times.
That formula doesn’t usually fly at Harbour Town Golf Links.
But there was a smile on the easy-going California native’s face after he manufactured one of his best rounds on the PGA Tour, thanks to his putter. Hoffman made everything, finishing with a 10-foot putt to save par, and shot 5-under-par 66. He is 11 under and two shots clear of Webb Simpson entering the final round of the 45th RBC Heritage.
Twelve players are within five shots of Hoffman’s lead entering the final round, which is expected to be windy. Kevin Streelman, a friend of Simpson’s who broke through for his first PGA Tour victory in March, is 8 under and three shots behind Hoffman.
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The day started with the completion of the suspended second round. The cut moved to 2 over before the third round began, and the field ballooned to 91 — tying a record set at the 1981 Travelers Championship — before being cut again.
Hoffman managed some separation.
Armed with a Scotty Cameron GoLo putter built to his preference earlier this season, Hoffman needed 21 putts Saturday after missing 10 greens, the mid-range par putts all falling.
His notable par saves included a 5-footer on the par-3 seventh after a miss short in the trap, an up-and-down from right of the No. 8 green after driving it in the pinestraw and the putt on No. 18, where he bailed out right and found the rough.
“That’s the difference-maker in golf tournaments,” said Hoffman, who worked out some of his ballstriking on the range after his round. “It was nice to make them today and, hopefully, I don’t leave myself as many tomorrow.”
Hoffman leads the field through three rounds with 73 putts and in strokes gained putting, with a 3.6 stroke average gained on his peers.
He birdied four of his first five holes to create some separation with what was a loaded third-round leader board and held off the challengers with key up-and-downs when his ballstriking went south. He dropped a long birdie putt on the par-5 15th after a poor wedge shot to break up a string of par saves.
Hoffman skipped this tournament four of five years before sneaking an eighth-place finish in 2012. He said he grew frustrated with the layout and didn’t properly manage his way around the golf course.
He showed off his new approach Saturday.
“We started kind of getting it out of position, which is easy to do on this golf course,” said Miguel Rivera, Hoffman’s caddie. “Then we just hit our second shots in spots where we had good, easy chips. We didn’t maybe chip it as close as we’d like to, but left ourselves a lot of uphill putts. You can be aggressive with those uphill putts.”
Simpson’s 65 Saturday matched his lowest number of the year. The former Wake Forest standout, once one of the hottest golfers in the world, is trying to win for the first time since the 2012 U.S. Open.
After struggling with a swing issue, wanting to clear to his left side, Simpson tried a number of remedies before something clicked earlier this year.
Simpson said the fix wasn’t as easy as completing the swing.
“Sometimes when you’re working on maybe your head staying still, you don’t necessarily work on your head staying still, you work on another movement to try to keep your head still,” Simpson said. “It was the same kind of thing. I was trying to get to my left side, but we didn’t know how to do it. And finally we realized that rhythm was kind of the big difference.”
Simpson is prepared to try to battle the wind in his attempt at the tartan jacket. Hoffman tried to downplay the anticipated breezy conditions.
He won the 2007 Bob Hope Classic in the wind and lives in Las Vegas, where he finds plenty of breeze during practice.
“I say bring on the wind,” Hoffman said.