Resurgent Spieth 3rd-round leader at Colonial over Kokrak

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Jordan Spieth pumps his fist after his birdie putt on the 18th green during the third round of the Charles Schwab Challenge golf tournament at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, Saturday, May 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Jordan Spieth knows how to finish out of the rough, and still had the lead after three rounds at Colonial.

After hitting his final drive Saturday into the thick grass on an incline right of the No. 18 fairway, Spieth recovered with an approach to 8 feet before rolling in the birdie putt that gave him the solo lead again over playing partner Jason Kokrak in the final group at the the Charles Schwab Challenge.

Spieth had his second consecutive round of 4-under 66 to get to 15 under at Colonial. That put up one stroke ahead of Kokrak, who had matched him for the lead with four birdies in a six-hole stretch before a closing par in his round of 66.

“It’s never easy to win out here. It’s a Saturday,” Speith said. “It’s one of those where you would like to separate yourself and get a big lead, but then he’s going to go make those putts on the back nine, and he’s a player that plays with a lot of confidence. Colonial is a great setting for a good finish.”

The resurgent Spieth has the 54-hole lead for a PGA Tour best-matching fourth time this season, all in a span of 11 tournaments. That stretch includes his win at the Valero Texas Open, the first time he had won since the 2017 British Open.

They will play again in the final group Sunday, when Kokrak will be going against the local favorite who won Colonial in 2016 and has been the runner-up there two other times.

“Jordan birdied 13, the par 3 and I walked off the green, I was like, ‘Well, I’m definitely not the favorite here this week.’ He’s a Texas guy. I’m an Ohio guy. It’s fun,” Kokrak said. “The crowds are crazy. But it’s fun to have a local kid and play well and him be in the last group, and I’d be more than happy to spoil it for him tomorrow.”

The 36-year-old Kokrak got his first career victory in the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas in October. That was after he tied for third at Colonial last June, when the Charles Schwab Challenge was played without spectators while marking the PGA Tour’s resumption of competition after a 12-week pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sergio Garcia, who was 21 when he got the first of his 11 PGA Tour victories at Colonial 20 years ago, was alone in third at 10 under after a 68 with one bogey.

Ian Poulter had the best round of the day with a 64 after getting started with four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine, moving up 26 spots into a tie for fourth at 8 under with Sebastian Munoz (70). Two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton was tied for sixth at 7 under with Brendon Todd and Patton Kizzire.

Midway through the round, Spieth had another recovery out of the right rough, almost as impressive as his final hole even though that was only a par.

Coming off his second bogey of the day, Spieth pulled out a driver and missed the fairway, leaving no shot to the No. 9 green fronted by water. He punched a shot safely into the fairway, pitched over the water to 12 feet and rolled in the par putt.

“Nine was big for me. I punched it out after being off line, and got up-and-down for par and it led to a bogey-free, few-under back nine,” Spieth said. “That was a big accomplishment. Okay, let’s settle in, let’s make kind of the right decisions and then if it starts to feel better, then we can attack the pins.”

Kokrak, who is 35th in the world ranking and only seven spots behind Spieth, birdied the first two holes of the day to match the lead at 12 under.

Spieth made a 13-foot birdie putt at the long, difficult par-3 No. 4 hole, but at the No. 5 hole that runs parallel to the Trinity River hit his first two shots both into the left rough and had first bogey in 41 holes at Hogan’s Alley this week. He got that stroke right back, and stretched the lead to three with his 21-foot birdie at No. 6, where Kokrak had his second consecutive bogey.

Both players had birdies at No. 15, Kokrak getting even at 13 under only for seconds before Spieth’s birdie there. Kokrak caught up at 14 under with a 13-foot birdie at No. 17, and was in the middle of the fairway at No. 18 when his playing partner went way right before the birdie that set off a huge roar from the crowd.

“It’s nice to be feeling a lot of the hometown support,” Spieth said. “It was a really good atmosphere out here. It’s crazy to think we were here one year ago with not a person following. What a difference a year makes, and hopefully we can continue to progress that way across the world.”

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