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Published: Sunday, 7/3/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Fowler, Watney share lead

Records fall as greens soften on AT&T National course

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- Rickie Fowler's ordinary season came to life Saturday in the AT&T National.

On a day in which the course record lasted only 20 minutes because of such low scoring, Fowler did his part by making six birdies in his opening 10 holes and wound up with a 6-under 64 to share the lead with World Golf Championship winner Nick Watney.

For all the hype over the fashionable Fowler, the 22-year-old hasn't won on the PGA Tour in 46 starts as a pro. He gave himself a chance at Aronimink with a game so dynamic that he missed two putts inside 10 feet and still shot 30 on the front nine.

Watney did his damage on the back nine and became the third player to break the course record on greens that were surprisingly soft. With a 30-foot eagle putt on the 16th, and a daring wedge to five feet on the 17th, he shot 27 on the back nine and finished with a 62.

That broke the record of 63 that Steve Marino had set about 20 minutes earlier. Marino had matched the record that Chris Kirk posted about an hour before that.

Adam Scott had a 66 and didn't feel as though he had made up much ground.

"I'm quite happy with a 66, to be honest," Scott said. "But yeah, it doesn't really stack up against a 62, does it?"

Of the 76 players who teed off Saturday -- Vijay Singh withdrew because of a back injury -- 40 of them had rounds in the 60s.

The tournament, however, remains wide open going into the final round Saturday.

Fowler and Watney were at 9-under 201, one shot ahead of 36-hole leader K.J. Choi, who started and finished well to compensate for some poor shots in the middle. Choi birdied two of his last three holes, including a 30-foot birdie putt on the 18th, to salvage a 69.

Scott, Marino, and Webb Simpson -- he had a 64 that was easy to overlook -- were two shots behind at 7-under 203, while the group at 204 included Kirk and Charlie Wi, who was going along nicely until he played it safe off the 316-yard 13th tee and wound up four-putting for a double bogey.

Fowler isn't the only player going for his first win.

Marino is regarded as among the best to have never collected a PGA Tour trophy, and he and Simpson -- also winless on tour -- could have even more at stake Sunday. The leading player among the top five not already eligible will be exempt for the British Open. Marino and Simpson also are battling for a higher ranking to see who will be the top alternate -- which becomes more significant with Tiger Woods not expected to compete at Royal St. George's.

Watney, the highest-ranked player at Aronimink at No. 15 in the world, didn't figure to be part of the mix when he made a mess of the par-5 ninth hole for his second straight bogey. For some reason, certainly one that Watney couldn't explain, the hole started looking bigger.

He birdied his next two holes, then played a five-hole stretch in 6 under. He came up one birdie short of matching the PGA Tour's nine-hole record of 26.

"I guess anything is possible," Watney said. "But I don't think you ever expect to shoot that low. You don't go on to the golf course very often anticipating a 62."

Certainly not this golf course.

In the opening round Thursday, only four of the holes averaged under par. Saturday, with softer greens, tees moved forward, and some hole locations that allowed shots to funnel toward the pin, half of the holes played under par.

Not everyone took advantage.

Chris Riley, playing in the last group with Choi, wound up with a 75. Justin Leonard and Bo Van Pelt each had a 71 to fall five shots behind, although they are still very much in the game.

Mark Russell, a vice president of competition in charge of setting up the course, said the watering pattern didn't change and attributed the soft conditions to more humidity in the air. It doesn't figure to change much for the final round, with storms in the forecast. The starting times for Sunday were moved up to try to avoid any weather delays.

Watney's last win was his biggest -- a big drive on the 18th hole of the Blue Monster at Doral for a birdie and a two-shot win, proving to himself that he could deliver key shots under pressure.

Fowler is trying to draw on the experience of being a runner-up. He had two good chances last year, laying up on a par 5 late in his round in Phoenix, then losing a lead at the Memorial when he hit a tee shot into the water on the par-3 12th hole.

"I think the biggest thing is just go out and be patient, not get ahead of myself and not get too excited or anxious, just sit back, relax, go through things the same way tonight and just go have some fun tomorrow," Fowler said.



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