Commentary

Nelson leaders bend but don't break

Ryan Palmer, Sergio Garcia lean on play of first two days to weather third-round storm

Updated: May 29, 2011, 12:30 PM ET
By Art Garcia | ESPNDallas.com

IRVING, Texas -- For a swashbuckling Spaniard and a gambling Texan, not much went right Saturday at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. Not enough putts fell. The wind played havoc and the heat didn't help. The field, four shots back of both at the beginning the day, closed the gap heading into the final round.

[+] EnlargeRyan Palmer
Darren Carroll/Getty ImagesRyan Palmer struggled with the putter Saturday but held on to the lead heading into the final round.
Sergio Garcia and Ryan Palmer had much to lament after playing the third round together in the final group, but neither complained. Being in Sunday's final group has a way of keeping things in perspective.

"It was definitely hard," Garcia said after his birdie-free 4-over 74. "At the same time, I have to say I got nothing out of my round. I could not shoot one shot higher than I did today. So if you look at it that way ... I have tomorrow. I think it's pretty positive."

On a sweltering and windy afternoon at the TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas, the former Nelson winner begins Sunday only one shot off the lead at 4 under. Palmer, a Colleyville resident Ryan, is that leader at 5 under.

No one in the five Sunday groups leading up to Palmer-Garcia had a worse third round than that last pairing. They remained atop that leaderboard thanks to their play Thursday and Friday, as both entered the third round at 8 under.

"That was what was big about my first two rounds, and Sergio as well," Palmer said. "We kind of separated a little bit. So nobody is going to go out there and shoot 5, 6, 7 under tomorrow. It's going to be survival."

The magic Garcia enjoyed with back-to-back 66s, without the benefit of a practice round, evaporated as temperatures neared 100 and the gusts topped 20 mph. Garcia lamented a "soft bogey" No. 16 -- one of four on the day -- and the inability to get anything going.

The 2004 Nelson champ couldn't find his bearings on the greens that were kind through two rounds. The winds baffled the 31-year-old when he took the putter. Garcia looked back with calm on a number of putts that the golf gods denied.

"When things are going your way, those putts instead of lipping out, go in," he said. "And you shoot ever par or even 1 over. It's not a bad round under those conditions."

[+] EnlargeSergio Garcia
AP Photo/LM OteroSergio Garcia's advantage dwindled thanks in part to four bogeys and no birdies.
The three-putt on No. 16 and bogey on the last hole deprived Garcia of the opportunity to move back into the lead with Palmer. The 34-year-old Texas A&M graduate didn't do himself any favors after hitting just three fairways Saturday. He split 17 the first two days.

"Toward the end," Garcia added, "neither of us could buy a putt."

Garcia has played this tournament 11 times, but not since 2008. He's made the cut eight times, including two other top 10 finishes. Palmer hasn't nearly been as lucky. Considering he's missed the cut in seven of eight previous Nelson visits, Palmer is playing with house money.

The three-time PGA winner continued to head the advice of shot-directing caddie James Edmondson, who called the club selection for the West Texan. They gambled more than Garcia at times -- a 5-wood off the tee at the 416-yard No. 4 is certainly an unorthodox play -- and remained aggressive throughout.

"That's just my game," Palmer said. "I'm not one to go out and play conservative."

The Amarillo native, one of the gallery favorites here this week, has spent much of the last year logging rounds with the ultimate risk taker. Phil Mickelson has rubbed off.

"I learned a little bit how aggressive I could be, and when I hold back is when I get in trouble," Palmer said of the time spent with Lefty. "When I'm swinging good and hitting the driver the way I am, I'm not worried about where certain lines are."

Palmer and Garcia both believe they got their bad rounds out of the way. After neither shot worse than 67 before the weekend, they watched the pack come back into contention. Including Garcia, 23 golfers are within six shots of Palmer, including 17-year-old amateur high school sensation Jordan Spieth of Dallas Jesuit.

Garcia's mindset going into Sunday is trust his plan of attack, and hope some of Saturday's bad breaks turn around. And don't think Palmer is going to change a thing. Both the swashbuckler and gambler are right where they want to be.

"There's something to playing aggressive and it can bite you at times, but I'm not going to go out there tomorrow and try to survive," Palmer said. "I'm going to try to win by three or four. I'm not going to hold back at all.

"We didn't think we would be in this position coming into the week. I think we've already won, so it's [about] having fun tomorrow."

Art Garcia covers golf for ESPNDallas.com.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ALSO SEE

MORE GOLF HEADLINES