The blistering Memphis heat broke Saturday as the thick humidity nearly dissipated, helping the crowd at the FedEx St. Jude Championship to swell to its largest size of the week.
Likewise, so did the leaderboard. As the final pairing of Sepp Straka and JJ Spaun walked off the course at TPC Southwind, there were 15 golfers within four shots of Spaun, maintaining his lead through three rounds at 13 under. The locked leaderboard sets up a potential Sunday barnstorming with a tournament-record $2.7 million prize on the line.
Straka takes second by himself at 12 under, while Cameron Smith, Will Zalatoris and Trey Mullinax are tied for third another stroke back.
Despite early exits from World No. 1 and FedExCup points leader Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, some prominent names remain in the hunt.
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But it’s mainly more obscure players populating much of the scoreboard. Straka and Spaun have one Tour win each. Tyler Duncan, too, who is tied for sixth with Troy Merritt. Hayden Buckley, winless in his PGA Tour career, is part of a large group of players tied for eighth at 9 under.
So, why the confused mess in Memphis? The players point to the high degree of difficulty presented by TPC Southwind.
“Yeah, it’s a tough course. It’s one of the tougher ones we play all year and you have to drive it well,” Duncan said. “You just have to drive it well, that’s the biggest thing.”
Only four players — Sungjae Im (7-under-par 63), Buckley, Zalatoris and Joaquin Niemann (each 65) — shot 65 or better Saturday. The course is also notoriously difficult due to its ponds and streams. Since 2003, TPC Southwind’s dangerous fluid has claimed 5,989 balls — 1,180 more than any other course on tour.
Keeping it in the lane is paramount, according to Smith. He said the rain earlier this week made things a little easier on Thursday. From then on, it was more difficult.
“With the fairways firming up a little bit like they did this afternoon, they’re pretty tough to hit,” Smith said. “So, a lot of good drives in some areas and I think that really stacks up the field.”
As challenging as it can be, Zalatoris is a big fan, and his play this week reflects his affinity for TPC Southwind.
“You can make a mistake really quickly, but you can also have some birdies here,” Zalatoris said. “You know, I love playing this place. I played well here last year and got some good vibes around this place.”
Spaun credited patience as the main reason he would be the last one out at 12:50 pm on Sunday. He shot a third round 68, although he admitted feeling like he was going to get “rounded up.” He doesn’t think another 68 will be good enough to go into next week’s BMW Championship as a winner.
“You look at the names, I mean, those guys, major champions and multiple winners and you have really hot golfers who just play really well,” Spaun said. “It won’t be easy tomorrow and I don’t think if I play like I did today, I don’t think it will be enough.
“I’m just going to give it everything I’ve got and hopefully make more birdies than I did today and we’ll see what happens after we add them up.”
Reach sportswriter Jason Munz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @munzly.