American Steve Stricker faded after making a scorching start to the third round of the Memorial tournament on Saturday, yet still preserved his three-shot overnight lead.
The world No. 8 spectacularly eagled two of his first five holes on a sweltering afternoon at the Muirfield Village Golf Club, but dropped two shots after the turn on the way to a three-under-par 69.
That left Stricker at 12-under 204 in the event hosted by Jack Nicklaus, with compatriot Jonathan Byrd in second spot after tapping in a two-foot birdie putt at the 18th for a matching 69.
Americans Matt Kuchar (68) and Brandt Jobe (69) were tied for third at eight-under, one stroke better than compatriots Mark Wilson (66) and Shaun Micheel (67) and Britain’s Rory McIlroy (71).
“It was a perfect start,” Stricker told reporters after staying on track to claim his 10th USPGA Tour title.
“A little disappointing that I kind of let it slip away on the back nine and didn’t really finish the round like I had hoped, but all in all, a good day,” he said. “A 69 around here is a good score and I’ve still got a three-shot lead, so I’m in good position heading into Sunday.”
Byrd, who won his fifth USPGA Tour title at the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January, liked his own prospects in the final round.
“I’m playing great golf right now and you never know what’s going to happen,” Byrd said.
Three ahead of the chasing pack overnight, Stricker made an explosive start by holing out with a sand wedge from 114 yards to eagle the par-four second.
He also eagled the par-five fifth, hitting a three-iron to within seven feet and rolling in the putt to stretch his lead to four strokes at 13-under.
That made him only the 13th player on the Tour since 1983 to record eagles on a par-three, a par-four and a par-five hole in the same tournament. He had aced the par-three eighth in Friday’s second round.
Although Stricker bogeyed the par-four sixth after overshooting the green with his approach, he picked up further shots at the seventh and eighth — where he sank a 24-footer — to regain a four-stroke cushion.
However, he struggled to maintain momentum on the more difficult back nine with the course running fast and firm and leaving no margin for error with tee shots and approaches.
He bogeyed the par-five 15th after his first two shots ended up in the left rough and also the par-three 16th after ending up in a green-side bunker and missing a four-foot putt.
Long regarded as one of the best putters on the Tour, Stricker lipped out with a birdie attempt from seven feet at the par-four 17th, before parring the last.
“I started missing some putts,” said Stricker, who failed to sink a four-footer for birdie at the 14th after twice backing away. “All of a sudden things seemed pretty hard when, at the start of the day, things were really going my way.”
Kuchar could sympathize, having birdied seven of the first 10 holes to claim outright second place, before dropping shots at 15 and the last.