Hilton Head Island, S.C. — Troy Merritt felt the fear Saturday he experienced during his successful amateur career. The third-round leader at the RBC Heritage expects another healthy dose Sunday.
Merritt shot a 2-under 69 to take a three-stroke lead over defending champion Matt Kuchar, Brendon Todd and Kevin Kisner. Jim Furyk, No. 10 in the world, was four shots behind, with Masters champ Jordan Spieth another stroke back and eager to win another jacket — this one tartan.
"I was starting to feel the fear and being afraid, like I would when I was an amateur," Merritt said. "It's not a bad fear; it's the fear of being caught. And I think it's worked for me in the past. "
Merritt finished at 14-under 199, two off the 54-hole scoring record set by Justin Leonard in his 2002 victory.
Todd made the big move with a 63, the day's lowest round. Kisner shot 67, and Kuchar 68.
Furyk led a group another stroke behind after a 68, with Spieth five shots back, also following a 68.
Brice Garnett and Branden Grace were tied with Furyk in fifth. Garnett shot 65, and Grace 66. Bo Van Pelt was 9 under along with Spieth after a 67.
The pack of seven players at 8 under included 2013 winner Graeme McDowell, past British Open champ Louis Oosthuizen and former world No. 1 Luke Donald.
All of them will have to chase down Merritt, the 54-hole leader for the first time in his career. His best finish on the PGA Tour is a second in Memphis last year.
Merritt moved to the top and built a four-shot lead Friday with his course-record tying 61 at Harbour Town Golf Links. He lost nearly all of that on the front nine Saturday before regrouping.
Merritt explained how that fear calms him and reminds him not to press and take chances to keep the edge. "You go out there, play solid golf, take care of your business and you see how the other guy is doing," he said.
That worked in the third round after Merritt put a ball in the water on the par-4 eighth hole — "It was a spectacular splash," he said — leading to a double bogey and reducing his lead to a stroke.
That's when Merritt regrouped and responded, making a birdie on the ninth to regain his rhythm.
"I was going to try and get the momentum back," he said. "And I was able to do that."
Spieth thrilled the gallery with his bounce-back 62 on Friday and it was a full house around the first tee when the 21-year-old Texan got started. But Spieth played more like he did in Thursday's opening 74 than in the second round, fighting to put shots close and make putts on the way to his 68.
Still, it was Spieth's 18th time breaking par in his past 19 rounds, a monthlong run of success that included the Valspar Championship title, seconds at Texas and Houston and that record-tying Masters win from last week where he matched Tiger Woods' mark of 18-under from 1997.
And the fans continued to celebrate that accomplishment, shouting and applauding Spieth wherever he walked. One more round and Spieth can get some rest: He's not playing the Zurich Open next week.
Spieth isn't counting out his chances of another round like Friday's. "There's a low one out there and I think it's certainly possible" to win, he said.
Only Bernhard Langer in 1985 followed a Masters win with success at the RBC Heritage.
Kuchar overcame a double-bogey 5 after hitting a tree on the seventh hole to keep within reach of playing partner Merritt.
"There's a tree that hangs out over the green protecting that, and it was a Dikembe Mutombo swat away from the basket," Kuchar said. "That was tough."
Kuchar proved tougher, bouncing back with birdies on the next two holes.
Sei Young Kim holed out from 154 yards for eagle to win the Lotte Championship at Kapolei, Hawaii, on the first hole of a playoff with Inbee Park.
After driving into the water in regulation on the par-4 18th, Kim forced the playoff with an 18-foot chip-in for par. She then won with her 8-iron shot that barely cleared the water.
The 22-year-old South Korean player became the first two-time winner on the LPGA Tour this year. She won in the Bahamas in February in her second start as a tour member.
Kim rebounded from a disappointing final round two weeks ago in the ANA Inspiration when she squandered the lead and ended up tying for fourth.
She closed with a 1-over 73 in wind gusting to 30 mph at Ko Olina to match Park at 11-under 277. Park finished with a 71.
I.K. Kim bogeyed the final two holes for a 74 that left her two strokes back.
Hyo Joo Kim (69) and Chella Choi (72) tied for fourth at 7 under as South Korean players swept the first five places. German Sandra Gal (69) finished sixth at 6 under.
Olin Browne shot a tournament-record 8-under 64 to take the second-round lead in the Champions Tour's Greater Gwinnett Championship at Duluth, Ga.
Browne was at 12 under. Bernard Langer was a stroke back after a 64 of his own, holing a 30-foot eagle putt on No. 18. He won the tournament in 2013 and finished second last year.
Browne's white shoes were streaked with red mud by the end of his day at soggy TPC Sugarloaf. The rain-delayed first round was completed early Saturday.
Rocco Mediate, who lost the lead with a double bogey on No. 11, was third at 9 under after a 67.
First-round leader Tommy Armour III was 6 under after a 71.
Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat shot a 4-under 68 to take the lead after the third round of the inaugural Shenzhen International at Shenzen, China, though he let a five-shot advantage slip to two strokes with a double bogey and bogey on this final two holes.
Kiradech had nine birdies in his round. He had a 12-under 204 total.
American Peter Uihlein was second after a 71.
Bubba Watson was tied for 58th at 2 over after a 74.