Jordan Spieth used the magic of his putter to overtake Henrik Stenson and grab a one-stroke lead after Saturday’s water-logged third round of the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
American Spieth poured in a 20-foot birdie putt at the last to cap off a two-under-par 68 that lifted him to an eight-under total of 202 on a layout left drenched after a second successive day of rain.
“It was a fantastic day, two-under in these conditions,” a smiling Spieth said. “I’m very pleased with where we stand going into tomorrow, and Henrik’s going to come back very strong. This was his off day and so I’m going to have to play even better.”
The 22-year-old, quiet the last month after a sensational first half of the year in which he won the Masters and US Open among four titles, stayed within striking distance with a remarkable par-save on 16 and a two-putt from 72 feet on 17.
“Sixteen and 18 were great,” he said. “Sixteen was a bit of a slight double breaker, mainly broke right-to-left. Just kind of have to cast it out with the right speed and hopefully it takes the right amount of break.
“I visualize where I think it needs to go and it happened to do just that,” added Spieth, who has not had a three-putt in 82 holes.
Swede Stenson began the drizzly day with a three-shot lead over Spieth, but his mastery of the venerable course waned in the soggy conditions as he posted four bogeys and two birdies for 72 and a 203 aggregate.
Stenson clung to a one-shot lead before bogeying the 17th after knocking his approach into the right bunker, short-siding himself to the pin with the green sloping away. His sand shot ran 35 feet past the cup and he two-putted for bogey.
“Wet, muddy, tough,” said Stenson, who led wire-to-wire in winning the 2013 Tour Championship and FedExCup at East Lake and led after each of the first two rounds this year.
“I think everyone’s soaking wet and muddy and needs a good wash out for tomorrow.”
SOLVING EAST LAKE’S PUZZLE
Tied for third place, four strokes off the pace at 206, were Rickie Fowler, who best solved the East Lake puzzle on Saturday with a three-under 67, and Englishman Paul Casey, who shot 71.
Four-times major winner Rory McIlroy (70) and British Open champion Zach Johnson (71) were another shot behind at three under par.
McIlroy suffered from awkward stances above greenside bunkers for a bogey at 16 and a double-bogey at the 18th that dropped him back from five-under.
“I just couldn’t get a stance to where I could aim directly at the pin,” the Northern Irishman explained about the last hole.
“I was aiming about 10 feet right of the pin and trying to hood the club face and sort of manufacture some sort of shot.”
The improvised chip ran off the green and into rough and he stubbed his next chip on the way to a double.
Besides the nearly $1.5 million first prize, a victory for any of Spieth, Stenson or Fowler would also clinch them the $10 million FedExCup playoffs bonus.
Players struggled through a second successive soggy day at East Lake, and although they were allowed to lift, clean and place balls on the saturated fairways, the 7 300 yard layout played much longer and thoroughly tested the elite field of 28.
A dry day is forecast for Sunday’s final round and the awarding of the FedExCup jackpot.