Golf

Merritt maintains RBC Heritage lead; Kuchar, 2 others 3 back

Troy Merritt sizes up a putt on No. 1 during the third round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament, held on Saturday, April 18, 2015 at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Merritt was defending his lead a day after setting the Harbour Town course record.
Troy Merritt sizes up a putt on No. 1 during the third round of the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing golf tournament, held on Saturday, April 18, 2015 at Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island, S.C. Merritt was defending his lead a day after setting the Harbour Town course record. The (Hilton Head) Island Packet

A day after toppling the Harbour Town Golf Links course record, journeyman Troy Merritt inched closer to his first PGA Tour title at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. A double bogey on the eighth hole was the only blemish on his round of 2-under-par 69. He is 14 under for the tournament.

And more importantly, the field shaved only one stroke from his lead.

Merritt will have less than a full day to dwell on his opportunity -- with bad weather expected Sunday, the PGA Tour will send golfers off both the first and 10th tees, starting at 7:30 a.m. So rather than an afternoon tee time, Merritt, Kevin Kisner and Brendan Todd will go off in the final group at 9:30 a.m., off the first tee.

Todd vaulted 27 spots up the leaderboard and into second place with a bogey-free round of 8-under-par 63. He is in a three-way tie for third, three off the pace, along with defending champion Matt Kuchar (3-under 68 on Saturday) and Aiken’s Kisner (4-under 67).

"The key for me was just being smart, kind of eliminating mistakes" Todd said. "And I got in a really good rhythm tee to green. ... We'll go out tomorrow and see what the course gives us, see what the weather does and just try to make some birdies."

Kuchar's round of 68 proved to be a wild ride. He made a double bogey on the par-3 7th, rallied with birdies at Nos. 8 and 9, bogeyed again at No. 10, then joined the group at 10 under with a birdie at No. 11. He scrambled to save par at the 12th and 14th holes, then birdied the par-5 15th, where Merritt settled for par.

Merritt matched David Frost's 1994 record by shooting a 10-under-par 61 in Friday's second round. There were no such fireworks Saturday, but he responded to his double bogey with a birdie on the next hole. His birdie at the par-3 14th, where he stuck his approach to 3 feet, got him to 14 under for the tournament.

Tied for fifth at 10 under are Brice Garnett, who shot a third-round 65; Branden Grace, who shot a 5-under 66; and 2010 champion Jim Furyk.

"I really do like it when it gets windy," Garnett said, hoping foul weather expected Sunday plays into his hands. "It plays trickier out there when it gets windy. I like to flight the ball, and it turns into a ball-striker's tournament."

At 9 under are Bo Van Pelt and Masters winner Jordan Spieth, who is aiming to join Bernhard Langer (1985) as the only golfer to win at Augusta and on Hilton Head Island in consecutive weeks. Like Merritt, Spieth didn't come close to matching his round Friday, but he shot a 3-under 68 to remain in contention. He started his day with a bogey but didn't make another the rest of the round.

Perhaps also pulling himself into the race is two-time Heritage runner-up Luke Donald, who shot his second consecutive 66 and is among a group of six golfers at 8 under.

"I seem to be putting better the last two days," Donald said, "and hopefully more of that to continue."

Early Saturday, Tom Watson got as low a 4-under on his third round before settling for a 2-under-par 69. Watson birdied the 18th hole Friday to make the cut. Playing in the final group, he finished in just over three hours. Afterward, the 65-year-old talked about playing against younger competitiors on the PGA Tour and hinted next year’s Masters might be his last.

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