Saturday's golf: Resurgent Spieth 3rd-round leader at Colonial over Kokrak

Associated Press

Forth Worth, Texas — Jordan Spieth knows how to finish out of the rough, and still had the lead after three rounds at Colonial.

After hitting his final drive Saturday into the thick grass on an incline right of the No. 18 fairway, Spieth recovered with an approach to 8 feet before rolling in the birdie putt that gave him the solo lead again over playing partner Jason Kokrak in the final group at the the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Jordan Spieth pumps his fist after his birdie putt on the 18th green during the third round of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, May 29, 2021.

Spieth had his second consecutive round of 4-under 66 to get to 15 under at Colonial. That put up one stroke ahead of Kokrak, who had matched him for the lead with four birdies in a six-hole stretch before a closing par in his round of 66.

“It’s never easy to win out here. It’s a Saturday," Speith said. "It’s one of those where you would like to separate yourself and get a big lead, but then he’s going to go make those putts on the back nine, and he’s a player that plays with a lot of confidence. Colonial is a great setting for a good finish.”

The resurgent Spieth has the 54-hole lead for a PGA Tour best-matching fourth time this season, all in a span of 11 tournaments. That stretch includes his win at the Valero Texas Open, the first time he had won since the 2017 British Open.

They will play again in the final group Sunday, when Kokrak will be going against the local favorite who won Colonial in 2016 and has been the runner-up there two other times.

“Jordan birdied 13, the par 3 and I walked off the green, I was like, ‘Well, I’m definitely not the favorite here this week.’ He’s a Texas guy. I’m an Ohio guy. It’s fun,” Kokrak said. “The crowds are crazy. But it’s fun to have a local kid and play well and him be in the last group, and I’d be more than happy to spoil it for him tomorrow.”

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The 36-year-old Kokrak got his first career victory in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas in October. That was after he tied for third at Colonial last June, when the Charles Schwab Challenge was played without spectators while marking the PGA Tour’s resumption of competition after a 12-week pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sergio Garcia, who was 21 when he got the first of his 11 PGA Tour victories at Colonial 20 years ago, was alone in third at 10 under after a 68 with one bogey.

Ian Poulter had the best round of the day with a 64 after getting started with four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine, moving up 26 spots into a tie for fourth at 8 under with Sebastian Munoz (70). Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton was tied for sixth at 7 under with Brendon Todd and Patton Kizzire.

Midway through the round, Spieth had another recovery out of the right rough, almost as impressive as his final hole even though that was only a par.

Coming off his second bogey of the day, Spieth pulled out a driver and missed the fairway, leaving no shot to the No. 9 green fronted by water. He punched a shot safely into the fairway, pitched over the water to 12 feet and rolled in the par putt.

“Nine was big for me. I punched it out after being off line, and got up-and-down for par and it led to a bogey-free, few-under back nine,” Spieth said. “That was a big accomplishment. Okay, let’s settle in, let’s make kind of the right decisions and then if it starts to feel better, then we can attack the pins.”

Kokrak, who is 35th in the world ranking and only seven spots behind Spieth, birdied the first two holes of the day to match the lead at 12 under.

More: Spieth, Garcia open with 63s at Colonial; Mickelson 10 back

Spieth made a 13-foot birdie putt at the long, difficult par-3 No. 4 hole, but at the No. 5 hole that runs parallel to the Trinity River hit his first two shots both into the left rough and had first bogey in 41 holes at Hogan’s Alley this week. He got that stroke right back, and stretched the lead to three with his 21-foot birdie at No. 6, where Kokrak had his second consecutive bogey.

Both players had birdies at No. 15, Kokrak getting even at 13 under only for seconds before Spieth's birdie there. Kokrak caught up at 14 under with a 13-foot birdie at No. 17, and was in the middle of the fairway at No. 18 when his playing partner went way right before the birdie that set off a huge roar from the crowd.

“It’s nice to be feeling a lot of the hometown support,” Spieth said. “It was a really good atmosphere out here. It’s crazy to think we were here one year ago with not a person following. What a difference a year makes, and hopefully we can continue to progress that way across the world.”

Senior PGA

Tulsa, Okla. — Steve Stricker took advantage of Mike Weir's back-nine collapse Saturday to take the lead into the final round of the Senior PGA Championship.

Stricker shot a 3-under 67 in a stiff north breeze at Southern Hills for a one-stroke lead over Alex Cejka, the senior newcomer who beat Stricker in a playoff this month in the major Regions Tradition in Alabama.

Stricker was at 6-under 204. Cejka shot 68.

Weir was 8 under through 11 holes, then made a double bogey on 12, starting a stretch of giving back five shots in five holes. The Canadian left-hander finished with a 74, leaving him three strokes behind Stricker, but still in the final group Sunday.

Cejka, a four-time winner on the European Tour, won his only PGA Tour event in 2015 when he captured the Puerto Rico Open. He played his way onto the PGA Tour Champions as a Monday qualifier and was an alternate in Alabama before getting in the field and eventually winning the Tradition. He was second at the Chubb Classic in April.

“He’s been playing great,” Stricker said. “Yeah, I’m going to have my hands full tomorrow. I mean he’s been playing great and I’m going to have to take care of my own self, my own game and hopefully put up a good score. I know the confidence level that he has must be high if he’s right up there again this week. He started as a Monday qualifier and wins a major and he’s in contention again here this week, so it’s a great story. “

Cejka, a native of Czechoslovakia whose family fled the country for West Germany when he was 10, bogeyed his first two holes then made four birdies and no bogeys the rest of the way. He said he has watched numerous players in the past start with a bang on the senior tour after turning 50.

“I’m riding the wave,” he said. “Let’s hope I’ll ride it for a little bit. I’m playing well and I just want to play as long and as good as possible because eventually it’s going to fade off. I mean, that’s normal, you know? But we’ll see what I can do the next whatever, weeks, months, couple years, who knows.”

Stricker, the 2021 Ryder Cup captain who was 2-0 when playing with a 54-hole lead on the senior circuit before losing to Cejka, played a solid round, making five birdies against two bogeys. He hit his approach shot on the 10th hole to tap-in range, then holed out from a bunker on the 485-yard, par-4 16th that played straight back into the wind.

“I stole one there,” Stricker said. “It’s a tough hole and you’re just trying to make a 4 there. . . This is a tough place and it gets your attention on a lot of shots It’s a great test of golf and I feel good about what I did today.”

Weir pushed his tee shot to the left on the par-4 12th behind a tree, punched out, then missed the green right with a short iron and failed to get up and down for the double bogey. He left his third shot short in a bunker on the par-5 13th leading to another bogey, the pushed his tee shot on 15 and wound up missing a par save from 5 feet. His tee shot on 16 found a massive fairway bunker, leading to a layup and another missed par save.

“I was just a little off with my game and this is a tough golf course,” said Weir, the winner in Houston thos month. “It’s a demanding course and it will bite you. And I got bit a little bit today on the back side. I’ll go try to iron a couple things out here and try to get a good attitude, some good rest and get ready for tomorrow.”

Beyond those in the final group, Tim Petrovic and K.J. Choi were five back at 1 under. Petrovic shot 68 and Choi 71. Jerry Kelly (69) and Stephen Leaney (71) were even par.

LPGA

North Las Vegas, Nev. — Ally Ewing made a 5-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole Saturday to beat local favorite Danielle Kang 1 up and join three major champions in the LPGA Match Play semifinals.

“It was a grind,” Ewing said after the long, hot day at Shadow Creek. “Danielle is a competitor and I knew it was going to be a match from the start."

Ewing will face Ariya Jutanugarn, a 5-and-4 winner over Minjee Lee on Sunday in the final event before the U.S. Women's Open next week at Olympic in San Francisco.

“Really tired,” Jutanugarn said. “I haven’t played 36 holes for so long.”

In the other semifinal, Sophia Popov will play Shanshan Feng. Popov beat ANA Inspiration winner Patty Tavatanakit 3 and 2, and Feng finished off Eun-Hee Ji with a birdie putt from more than 100 feet on the 19th hole.

Ewing, then known by her maiden name of McDonald, also held off Kang in late October in Florida at Reynolds Lake Oconee for her lone LPGA Tour victory. On Saturday with U.S. Solheim Cup captain Pat Hurst looking on, she rebounded on the par-5 18th after Kang pulled even with a birdie win on the par-3 17th.

“I knew if I gave Danielle any open door she would capitalize, as she did all day,” Ewing said. “Thankfully, I rolled that putt in and sealed it.”

An ambassador for course owner MGM Resorts, Kang missed a chance to advance to the final day in her home event.

“I’m really excited about where my golf game is headed,” Kang said. “I definitely took a little detour for the last few months. About a week ago I felt like everything is starting to come together. It showed this week.”

Ewing birdied all the even-numbered holes on the back nine.

“I rely a lot on my ball-striking, but you’ve got to be able to putt in match play,” Ewing said. “Danielle is a great putter. She’s a clutch putter. We saw that several times today. Thank goodness I was able to match her several times and close it out.”

Ewing rallied to beat Jenny Coleman in 19 holes in the morning in the round of 16. The 28-year-old former Mississippi State player birdied the 18th to pull even with Coleman and won with a par of the first extra hole.

Popov eliminated second-ranked Inbee Park in 20 holes in the morning, then headed back out to face another major champion in Tavatanakit in the afternoon.

“Obviously, the heat takes a toll on you.” Popov said. “I’m not going to lie. I can’t wait to put my feet up and do it all again tomorrow.”

Jutanugarn beat Sarah Schmelzel on the first hole of a playoff Friday to advance, then topped Anna Nordqvist 4 and 3 in the morning.

Feng played 41 holes Saturday, She beat Brittany Altomare in 22 holes in the morning, tying the match on 18.

European Tour

Farso, Denmark — Bernd Wiesberger will take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Made in HimmerLand event on the European Tour as he seeks to defend the title in Denmark.

The Austrian golfer shot a 3-under 68 on Saturday to reach 14 under overall. Sweden’s Alexander Björk is in second place.

The 35-year-old Wiesberger is aiming to become the first player to retain a European Tour title since Jon Rahm at the Open de España in 2019. Wiesberger won the event in 2019 and it was canceled last year.

Björk shot 66 on moving day. England’s Laurie Canter is in third place after shooting 64 to be on 11 under.