This wasn’t a gentle nudge.
The pep talk Jonathan Byrd got a week ago from his wife Amanda was more like a kick in the pants and it boiled down to this: don’t go to the Atlantic Beach Country Club for the Web.com Tour Championship unless you think you can win.
“That was about it,” said Byrd, a five-time PGA Tour winner who lost his status and has struggled this season on the Web.com Tour. “She speaks her mind more than she used to and I think that’s been a good thing in our marriage in that we’re more honest with each other.”
Byrd clearly took it to heart. Battling intermittent rain and brisk wind throughout the day, the St. Simons Island, Ga., resident matched the low round of the day with a 64 and at 20-under-par 193, has a two-shot lead over Sam Saunders (70) and a three-shot lead over Cameron Tringale (65) entering Sunday’s final round.
Rob Oppenheim (66), Bronson Burgoon (68) and Tyler Duncan (64) are tied for fourth at 16-under. After two days of low scoring, the elements and some tougher pin positions resulted in a third-round scoring average of 70.044, after the field averaged 68.56 in the first two rounds.
The 64 that Byrd and Duncan shot had been equaled or bettered by 10 players in the first round and nine in the second round.
Byrd entered the week in a do-or-die situation to regain his PGA Tour card. He was 55th on the Web.com Tour money list entering the four-tournament Web.com Finals, then tied for 31st in the first event in Columbus, Ohio, and missed the cut at Boise and Beachwood, Ohio.
That left Byrd in a tie for 85th on Finals money list with $5,480 entering this week. The top-25 after the final round earn their PGA Tour cards for 2017-2018 and Byrd needs to finish at least seventh to meet the total of $37,937 that the Web.com Tour projects will be enough.
His work isn’t done, especially with worse conditions expected for the final round. But Byrd said he’s freed himself mentally for the task at hand.
“It’s a different mindset this week of trying to not get so caught up in it,” he said.
Byrd began the day four shots behind Saunders and caught up with five birdies on the front nine, four of them on putts of 10 feet or less. He knocked in a 25-footer for birdie at the par-5 sixth hole.
Byrd bookended another 25-footer for birdie at No. 14 with short birdie putts at the par-5 10th and 18th holes.
In the meantime, Saunders, who shot 59 in the first round, made the first of four bogeys at the first hole. He birdied No. 17 to come within a shot of Byrd, but then three-putted No. 18 for bogey, spinning out a 20-foot birdie attempt, then missing the 4-footer coming back.
Saunders, who is fifth on the projected Finals money list, said he actually struck the ball better than he had the previous day when he shot 66.
Putting was the difference.
“I missed a lot of really short putts, which is weird,” he said. “I’ve been putting sold all week. I’ve just got to work that out and tomorrow, not do it, and I’ll be fine.”
The first 54 holes has set the stage for a Sunday grind in which every shot will be crucial for players outside the projected amount for the 25th spot in Finals earnings. Adam Svensson, who missed the cut, is on the bubble but 20 players who made the cut are within $27,678 of that, which would require a finish of at least 10th place.
“There’s no next week for most of us,” said Tringale, who is $26,993 away from the 25th spot and projected to finish 11th, based on his current standing. “There’s always pressure in this game.”
But will the final round be added pressure?
“Added pressure?” he said. “Yeah … a little bit.”