For a while over the first two rounds of the AT&T Byron Nelson, it seemed like Australian Marc Leishman was going to run away and hide from the rest of the talented field as it competed on the sparse and minimalist Trinity Forest Golf Club just south of downtown Dallas.
Then the Texas winds picked up, and the course got firmer and faster, and the collection of some of the best players in the world — namely rookie Aaron Wise — got a little more used to the links-style track, which is hosting this famed PGA Tour stop for the first time.
Leishman managed a 2-under-par 69 while Wise forged a 68 on Saturday to each finish at 17-under 196 and tied for the lead after three rounds of competition.
The golfers battled constant winds of 15-20 mph on the treeless course, which showed its teeth for the first time this week and took its pound of flesh.
“Very different conditions today than we saw on Thursday afternoon,” Leishman said. “The course is firming up, and it’s a lot windier. You are hitting such different clubs on holes than we did the first few days.”
Matt Jones of Australia (who carded a 68 on Saturday) and Kevin Na (69) are tied in third at 200, four shots in arrears of the leaders. Jimmy Walker (70) double-bogeyed the 18th hole to fall into a tie for fifth at 201, with Brian Gay (72), while Ryan Blaum (67), Keith Mitchell (69), Kevin Tway (70) and J.J. Spaun (69) are another stroke back and tied for seventh.
Leishman fired a course record 61 in the opening round on Thursday and began Saturday with a one-shot lead over Wise. Leishman bogeyed the second hole but found three birdies to hold on to a piece of the lead.
“I’m really happy with the way I fought back today after a slow start.” Leishman said. “I learned a lot out there today. I have to keep driving it well and hole some more putts — if you are not making putts from 10-12 feet, you probably aren’t going to win.
“Aaron is playing well, so I will do my best tomorrow and hopefully that will be enough.”
Wise, who finished tied for second two weeks ago at the Wells Fargo Championship for the best result of his 25-event PGA Tour career, found his groove over the final 12 holes after starting the round with two bogeys, two pars and two birdies. He birdied the seventh and ninth holes, then added two more on Nos. 16 and 17, the latter of which pushed him to the top of the leaderboard.
The 21-year-old Wise then three-putted the 18th green to fall back into a tie with Leishman after 54 holes.
“Going out today, I almost felt like I had expectations, which is crazy because I’ve only been in this position once before,” Wise said. “I felt like I expected a little too much of myself and put a little too much pressure on myself early. I thought I played great on the back nine and finished at three [under], which is a great round today.
“Just knowing that I’ve been there and playing as well as a did a few weeks ago will help me in the final round. I have a lot confidence going into tomorrow, and now that I’ve been there, I think I will have a better chance at it.”
Charles Howell III, who is in an eight-player group tied at 10 under, had the best score of the third round, firing a 6-under 65. Eric Axley, who was tied for fourth after 36 holes, ballooned to a 77 on Saturday, the worst score in the field, and fell out of contention.
The conditions were daunting but were — in fact — a little more like the players were expecting this week.
“This is what the course is built for,” Jones said. “Today was a lot different than other days. There’s a lot of room off the tee (on this course). If you control your irons and give yourself a look at it, you can do it. I could have shot a low score. I missed a lot of putts for birdie.”
–Field Level Media