MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The blistering Memphis heat broke Saturday, as the thick humidity all but dissipated, helping the FedEx St. Jude Championship crowd swell to its largest size of the week.
Likewise, so did the leaderboard. As the final pairing of Sepp Straka and J.J. Spaun walked off the course at TPC Southwind, there were 15 golfers within four shots of Spaun, maintaining his lead through three rounds at 13 under. The jammed-up leaderboard sets up a potential Sunday barn-burner with a tournament-record $2.7 million prize on the line.
Straka occupies second by himself at 12 under, while Cameron Smith, Will Zalatoris and Trey Mullinax are tied for third another stroke back.
Despite early exits from World No. 1 and FedExCup points leader Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, some prominent names remain in the hunt.
But it’s predominantly more obscure players populating much of the scoreboard. Straka and Spaun have one Tour victory apiece. Tyler Duncan, too, who is tied for sixth with Troy Merritt. Hayden Buckley, winless in his PGA Tour career, is part of a large group of players tied for eighth at 9 under.
So, why the jumbled mess in Memphis? The players point toward the high degree of difficulty that TPC Southwind poses.
“Yeah, it’s a tough course. It’s one of the tougher ones we play all year and you have to drive it well,” said Duncan. “You just have to drive it well, that’s the biggest thing.”
Only four players – Sungjae Im (7-under 63), Buckley, Zalatoris and Joaquin Niemann (each 65) – shot 65 or better Saturday. The course is also notoriously difficult because of its ponds and creeks. Since 2003, TPC Southwind’s hazardous liquid has claimed 5,989 balls – 1,180 more than any other course on tour.
Keeping it in the fairway is paramount, according to Smith. He said the rain earlier this week made things a little easier on Thursday. Since then, it’s been more difficult.
“As the fairways firm out a little bit like they did this afternoon, they’re quite tricky to hit,” said Smith. “So, lots of good drives in some areas and I think that’s what really bunches up the field.”
As challenging as it can be, Zalatoris is a big fan, and his play this week reflects his affinity for TPC Southwind.
“You can make a mistake real quick, but you can also have some birdie looks out here,” Zalatoris said. “You know, I love playing this place. I played well here last year and got some good vibes running around this place.”
Spaun credited patience as the primary reason he will be the last to tee off at 1:50 p.m. ET Sunday. He fired a third-round 68, although he admitted feeling like he was going to get “lapped.” He doesn’t think another 68 will be good enough to go into next week’s BMW Championship as a winner.
“You look at the names, I mean, those guys, major champions and multiple winners and you’ve got really hot golfers that are, you know, just playing really good,” Spaun said. “It’s not going to be easy tomorrow and I don’t think if I play like how I did today, like I don’t think that will be enough.
“I’m just going to give it all I’ve got and hopefully make some more birdies than I did today and we’ll see what happens after we add them up.”
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.