PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Justin Leonard walked toward the 12th green Saturday at Innisbrook and saw a scoreboard that showed he was tied for the lead in the Tampa Bay Championship. He knocked in his 8-foot birdie putt, assumed he was ahead, and then never looked at another board the rest of the day.
He might do the same Sunday.
There’s no point in staring at scores, not with so many names separated by so few shots. Besides, the Copperhead course at Innisbrook is playing so difficult even in pleasant weather that it’s best not to think about anything except the next shot.
“It is hard,” Leonard said after his 4-under 67 put him in a three-way tie for the lead with Kevin Streelman and George Coetzee of South Africa. “There’s not a whole lot of birdie holes on those last six holes. With the greens getting firmer and faster as they did today — which I’m sure they will again tomorrow. You have to be pretty patient out there and really pick your spots pretty carefully.”
Davis High graduate Nick Watney carded a 70 on the day. He sits five strokes behind the leaders with Adam Scott and K.J. Choi, who set the tone early for this wild day by going into full retreat.
That allowed for a game of musical chairs at the top of the leaderboard, with nothing remotely close to being settled going into the final day. Sixteen players were separated by only three shots at a tournament where the winner has come from behind to win in four of the last five years.
Streelman finished his 6-under 65 nearly three hours before the last group walked off the 18th green.
“I wanted to get to 6 under today,” Streelman said. “I had that number in my mind to at least have a chance going into tomorrow, so I was happy to get there.”
He had no idea at the time he would all the way to the top of the leaderboard.
Leonard ran off four birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn and had the lead to himself before a bogey from the bunker on the 15th. Coetzee bounced back from his lone bogey with a birdie on the rowdy 17th hole, where Hooters waitresses serve wings in the grandstands. That gave him a 68.
They were tied at 6-under 207, more evidence that the Copperhead course is perhaps the most complete test in Florida. Even on a warm, breezy afternoon, it was easier to go backward that to move away from the field.
Scott and Choi were proof of that.
Scott had a two-putt birdie on the opening hole to briefly take the lead, and that was the highlight of his day. He three-putted from about 15 feet for bogey on third, made bogey with a wedge in his hand on the par-5 fifth hole and stumbled to a 76. Choi, who also was one shot out of the lead, didn’t make a birdie in his round of 76.
They still were only five shots out of the lead.
Shawn Stefani, the 31-year-old rookie who led by one, had a 74 and still was only two shots behind. His day could have been much worse except for a tee shot that caromed off a tree and into the fairway on the second hole, and a big hook on the third that hit the tire of a golf cart and stayed in play. Instead of hitting his third shot from the tee, he could reach the green for a two-putt par.