Henry fires 7-under 63 to take Buick lead
CROMWELL, Conn. -- His putter was working, the gallery was his and now J.J. Henry is in contention for his first PGA Tour win at the tournament he has always dreamed of winning.
The Fairfield, Conn., native shot a 7-under-par 63 to grab the third-round lead at the Buick Championship on Saturday before an appreciative home state crowd. Henry, 31, has been a fan of the tournament since childhood.
"To grow up in the state of Connecticut and have a chance, I really can't think of another event I would rather win to get my first tour victory than right here at Cromwell," Henry said.
He's strung together three straight rounds under par and is at 11-under 199 heading into Sunday. It's his first 54-hole lead since joining the PGA Tour in 2000, although he was in the final group in Phoenix this year.
"I felt very comfortable out there. If I can just kind of enjoy what's going on and just having fun doing it, I seem to play well," Henry said.
And what can be more relaxing than a round of Sunday golf with a good friend?
That's exactly what Henry will have.
Henry now lives in Forth Worth, Texas. His buddy and neighbor there, Harrison Frazar (65), is two strokes back in second place.
"It will be very relaxing," said Frazar, who is also in the hunt for his first tour win. "It would be a fantastic thing for him to win being from here or from around the area. We've got to go play the golf course and see what happens. But I'd sure like to see one of us win."
Villegas will join Henry and Frazar in the final group. Because of the threat of severe weather Sunday afternoon, tournament officials have moved up tee times and are sending the field out in threes.
Henry played this tournament as an amateur in 1998, finishing tied for 56th. This year marks his eighth appearance at the TPC at River Highlands. His best finish was a tie for 21st in 2003.
Although he now lives in Texas, the gallery wasn't about to let him forget his roots.
The crowd roared, and one fan shouted, "Hometown hero!" after Henry sunk a 25-footer for birdie on the No. 17 signature water hole to go to 12 under. Henry pumped his fist and tipped his hat.
"With all the crowd out there, I just felt so good, I said, 'Man, I want to make the crowd roar,' and sure enough I hit it right in the middle of the hole," Henry said. "I kind of carry the Connecticut flag growing up here."
Henry's only stumble came on No. 18 before an even bigger crowd sitting around the bowl-shaped last hole. He bombed his tee shot 342 yards, missing the fairway to the right and it landed in the hillside rough. His approach landed in a trap fronting the green. Henry managed to chip out to about 12 feet and two-putted for bogey.
It was the first time his putter failed him all day. He made a 15-footer from the fringe for birdie on No. 15, then calmly made a 12-footer to save par on the 171-yard par-3 No. 16.
"The putter got hot," Henry said. "When you make the putts I made, you're going to be in a good spot and you're going to shoot a good round."
Frazar, the first-round co-leader, got back on track after shooting a 71 on Friday. He returned to the tour after a five-week layoff to handle family illnesses and the recent birth of his third child.
He made the turn at 4 under and quickly got back into it when he made birdie on the next six holes to shoot a 29 on the back nine.
"You never expect yourself to make six birdies in a row. You never expect yourself to make that many 15-, 20-footers, but you've got to have a few lucky breaks to go along with it," Frazar said. "It was one of those things that happens every once in a while and just be thankful for it."
Steve Flesch (64), Trevor Immelman (68) and Peter Lonard (70) sat four strokes off the lead. Like Frazar, Flesch played himself into contention by shooting a 29 on the back nine, also with six birdies in that stretch.
A two-time PGA Tour winner, Flesch is looking for his first victory since 2004.
"I'm playing good nine-hole stretches this year," Flesch said. "I've had glimpses of greatness lately, but unfortunately I've had to play 18 holes. If I could just count nine-hole scores now, then I would have had a really good year so far."
Third-round leader Darron Stiles, who began the day at 8 under, finished with a 4-over 74 to drop back to the pack. Stewart Cink, who won this tournament in 1997, opened with three straight birdies and briefly led at 9 under. But he had two double-bogeys and a bogey the rest of the way and finished with a 2-over 72, seven strokes behind the leader.
The 54-hole winner has gone on to win 25 times in 54 years at the Buick Championship... Buick drops its sponsorship of this event after this year. Next year it becomes the St. Paul Travelers Championship... First-place pays $792,000... Corey Pavin (68) and Kirk Triplett (68) shot the only two bogey-free rounds of the day... Shigeki Maruyyama and Daisuke Maruyama, who are not related, are both eight strokes off the lead and in the same threesome Sunday morning.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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