As he walked off the 13th green of the Muirfield Village Golf Club today, Craig Stadler looked at the leader board and couldn't help but smile. Having just made a 30-foot birdie putt, Stadler was five under par for the day, eight under for the tournament. He was leading the $400,000 Memorial Tournament by four strokes.
"I'm thinking, make a couple more and you can have a seven-shot lead and it'll be a perfect Sunday." Stadler said. "Shows you what happens when you start thinking like that on this golf course."
What happened to Stadler was double bogeys the next two holes. By the time the man his fellow pros call "Walrus" chugged off the 18th green, he was tied for the lead with Tom Kite and a rejuvenated George Archer at 212, four under par. One shot back sat Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, D.A. Weibring and second-round leader Keith Fergus. Four more players are just two shots back going into Sunday' final round (WDVM-TV-9, 4 p.m.)
"This is the kind of course where it's hard for anybody to run off and hide," Kite said. "It's just too easy to get into trouble. You lose your concentration for a second and you're looking at double or triple bogey."
The course, created six years ago by Jack Nicklaus (who shot 74 today for 217) has been the topic of discussion among the pros all week. They love it even though they come off the course each day drained and exhausted. It is no surprise that Archer, Watson, Crenshaw and Kite, four of the top putters in the game, are in serious contention on these superslick greens.
Stadler was having a wonderful time today for 13 holes. He had taken the lead with a front nine 32 and looked capable of a runaway when he reached the 14th tee. He made putts that "I had no right to make."
The course got even quickly.
The 14th is a short par 4, just 363 yards long. But the second shot is one of the toughest in golf with water in front and to the right of the ultranarrow green, and sand to the left.
Stadler, trying to avoid the bunkers, played for the back right-hand side of the green with a nine-iron. "I just came off it a little trying to make sure I didn't pull it left," he said. "I got what I deserved."
What he got was a wet golf ball, hitting the creek. After dropping, he chipped poorly and needed two putts for a 6. Stadler, who won two tournaments in 1979, did not seem terribly upset by the apparent aberration.
But on the 15th tee, he pulled his drive left, into the woods, down near a creek. "I had an easy chip back to the fairway," he said. "I'll get it back out there 100 times out of 100."
Make it 100 out of 101. The nine-iron failed Stadler again. This time the ball shot right, ricocheted against a tree and went backward into the hazard. Stadler destroyed the hazard stake with another swing of the nine-iron, dropped quickly and finally chipped out. From there he made 7 and suddenly Archer was leading the tournament.
That didn't last long. Thek 6-foot-5 Archer, 1969 Masters champion who sat out virtually all of 1979 after back surgery in 1978 left him unable to lift a club for eight months, had his putter working and came to 18 needing a par for 68. But his five-iron second shot landed in a front bunker. He blasted to six feet but left the putt short.
Still, Archer wasn't complaining. Only recently has he been able to return to the old putting stroke that made him one of the best putters on the tour for years.
Just as happy was Kite, who gambled with a three-wood second shot at 15, trying to reach the par-5 in two. He two putted there for a birdie, then knocked in a 40-foot downhill snake at the par-three 16th for another birdie to go four under. A gorgeous save from the sand at 18 got him into the clubhouse with 69.
Also at 69 was Watson, even though he has not been pleased with his swing. Watson has held together, playing the backnine, which has troubled everyone else, under par each day. Today, he played it in three under.