Saturday’s roundup: Haas builds 1-shot lead
Palm Harbor, Fla. — Bill Haas was looking for a spark and knew just where to find it.
He called his dad.
Jay Haas is a nine-time PGA Tour and two-time Presidents Cup captain, and the only person Bill Haas trusts when it comes to golf. So he asked his father to come down to the Valspar Championship earlier in the week, hopeful “he would have the magical touch.”
It appears to be working.
Haas worked his way through the wind on another tough day and chipped in for birdie on the par-3 15th hole on his way to a 4-under 67, giving him a one-shot lead over Graham DeLaet of Canada going into the final round at Innisbrook.
It was one shot on the fifth hole of a practice round Tuesday. Jay Haas suggested that his son use an abbreviated follow on his swing so that it would force him to get his hands through the ball quicker and avoid shots that were leaking to the right.
“He came up with the swing thought I’ve had for three days, and I’m leading,” Haas said. “Without him coming down, I might not even have made the weekend. It was very valuable.”
And if it doesn’t hold up on Sunday?
“If it goes south, I can blame him,” Haas said with a laugh.
Haas was at 8-under 205
DeLaet, now sporting a beard that would make Old Tom Morris proud, pounded a 3-wood out of the rough and over the water to 3 feet on the par-5 14th for an eagle that shot him up the leaderboard, and he finished with a 68 to get into the last group.
Haas is as honest as any golfer at the highest level. He realizes he can play a solid round Sunday and it might not be enough because of the players behind him — that includes defending champion Jordan Spieth — and the nature of the Copperhead course. This is the first stop on the Florida swing where no one has shot better than 66.
DeLaet, still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, sounds more determined than ever. This is a great chance to win. He wants to grab it.
“Every time in this position I kind of say the politically correct things,” he said. “I’m going to go and win this golf tournament tomorrow. That’s my plan.”
It’s still up in the grabs on Sunday because of Innisbrook, which takes shots away more often than it gives up birdies. Six players were within four shots of the lead, and even Spieth believes he is still in the mix.
Spieth, who opened his title defense with a 76, made the cut with one shot to spare on Friday and moved into a tie for ninth on Saturday with a bogey-free 67 in which he holed a long eagle putt and made a pair of key par saves coming in.
“To think after the first round that I go Saturday night be able to sleep with a chance to win the golf tournament, I’m very pleased with that,” Spieth said.
Charley Hoffman (67) and Ryan Moore (69) were three shots behind.
Charles Howell III had a 70 and was four shots behind, but still has a reasonable chance to win and earn a return to the Masters, which motivates the Augusta, Georgia, native this time of the year. He was amazed to still be this close to the lead.
“This course continues to surprise me in that it just doesn’t give up good scores,” Howell said. “What am I? Tied for fifth? I would have thought the lead would be 10 or 12 under, and more than one guy there. But maybe that’s just me getting my head beat in.”
In the group with Spieth was Lee McCoy, the Georgia senior who ran off five straight birdies around the turn and was headed for a rare low score at Innisbrook until he put his tee shot in the water on the 16th and took double bogey. He still shot a 66 and was six shots behind, and he gets to play the final round with Spieth.
McCoy knows the course better than anyone. He grew up near Innisbrook, describing his house as a par 5 away from the course. He played Saturday with Gary Woodland, and McCoy told him that he was in the gallery when Woodland won five years ago.
They will be chasing Haas, who is coming off a big moment in his career last October when he won the decisive point in the Presidents Cup with his father as captain. It hasn’t carried over, at least not yet. Haas has a pair of top 10s this year, though he has not seriously contended.
“Half of it is these guys are really good,” Haas said. “I’m trying to beat some really good players and they’re beating me right now. I just haven’t been sharp. When the Presidents Cup was won, being in the last match and handling some pressure, that was a great stepping stone for me. Hopefully, it will lead to better things. But I’ve still got to play well tomorrow.”
At Hua Hin, Thailand, Australia’s Scott Hend shot a 2-under 70 at Black Mountain to take a two-stroke lead in the Thailand Classic.
Hend had a 14-under 202 total in the event sanctioned by the European and Asian tours. American Peter Uihlein was second after a 69.