By Teresa M. Walker/The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Rookie Shawn Stefani has been through enough scrambling around the mini-tours trying to make it to the PGA Tour that a quadruple bogey wasn’t going to shake his confidence or his concentration.
Even if it cost him the lead.
Stefani overcame the bad hole that dropped him down Saturday and shot a 4-under 66 to take the third-round lead in the St. Jude Classic.
“I feel like I hit one bad shot on 11, and that was the putt that I missed for a triple,” Stefani said showing off his sense of humor. “I know that sounds crazy, but you know I hit the club that I wanted to hit. Unfortunately, was the wrong club at the wrong time.”
The 31-year-old Texan rebounded with four birdies over his final five holes to move back atop the leaderboard. He finished with eight birdies to go with that quadruple bogey to reach 12-under 198 at TPC Southwind.
“It’s who gets over it fastest and who moves on the fastest,” Stefani said. “And to finish the way I did with three birdies on the last three was great. But I was just out there just playing the game and having fun. That’s what I’m here for is to play the best I can and have fun with it, and I did that today.”
Harris English was a stroke back after a 69, finishing out of the lead for the first time this week. He sounded happy it wasn’t worse after playing with Stefani.
“Shawn played so good on the front side, he birdied 10 I thought this guy’s going to shoot 60,” English said.
Thirteen players shot at least 4 under on a day with easier pins on the small, firm greens and very little wind.
Scott Stallings, Patrick Reed and Nicholas Thompson were 8 under. Stallings had a 67, Reed shot 64, and Thompson had a 66.
Phil Mickelson was another stroke back after a 65 with his best round yet after not playing the previous three weeks. His day could have been even better if not for three bogeys along with six birdies and an eagle. Mickelson said he needs to be a little bit sharper with each swing.
“There were a couple of tee shots that didn’t catch the fairway,” he said. “I’ve got to get that ball in the fairway. And I did a better job of it today and consequently I was able to make a lot of birdies because I could be aggressive from there. I also just have to miss it in the proper spot too.”
Pins will be in tougher locations Sunday, and Mickelson said any wind could create the potential for the leaders to shoot over par. Only Stallings has won on tour among the players ahead of Mickelson, who has 41 career wins with four majors as he tunes up his game for the U.S. Open next week at Merion.
“I feel like I’m playing well enough where I can go out and shoot a low round tomorrow,” Mickelson said. “I expect the course to play different tomorrow than it did today. Today was set up for moving day. The tees were up, the pins were in easy spots, no wind. … I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s final round.”
This is just the 17th career tour event for Stefani, who earned his way onto the PGA Tour by finishing sixth on the Web.com Tour money list in 2012 in a two-time win season. He played the U.S. Open in 2009 at Bethpage, missing the cut. In March, he had the lead after the first and second rounds at the Tampa Bay Championship before tying for seventh in his best finish yet.
“I’m much more prepared with my game than I was then, and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with it,” Stefani said. “It’s been a tough year for me. I’ve stayed patient with it and tried to keep going and focusing on all the things I usually do. But it’s tough.”
Stefani went off in the final group with English, who had a share of the lead after 18 and had the lead to himself after 36 holes.
English opened strong with two birdies in his first three holes to become the first to get to 12 under here this week. But the 23-year-old English bogeyed Nos. 5 and 8 with his playing partner getting his third birdie on No. 9 to take the lead to himself.
Stefani hit his approach on the par 4 to 7 feet to set up the birdie, helping him make the turn at 11 under. He then birdied No. 10 rolling in a 12-footer to go to 12 under with a two-stroke lead over English.
Then the rookie ran into trouble on the island green of the par-3 No. 11.
Stefani went with a wedge and said a gust of wind caught it in the air, sending it into the water short of the island green. He took his drop and then hit into the back bunker where he had a buried lie. He got the ball out but didn’t clear the slope, so the ball rolled back into the bunker. He pushed an 8-footer past the hole 4 feet before finally salvaging a quadruple bogey.
But Stefani birdied No. 14 and got a big par save on No. 15 after his tee shot rolled into the water near the green. He took a drop, then chipped in from 49 feet to avoid dropping another stroke and stay within a shot of English with a big smile of relief.
Stefani finished with a 3-footer for birdie on No. 16, a 17-footer for birdie on No. 17 and capped his round with an 8-footer on No. 18 just after English made a 14-footer to move back into the lead for a few moments
English had plenty of luck himself.
On the par-4 12th, his approach to the green went left and bounced off the top of a grandstand and hit off a woman before rolling into a greenside bunker. English saved par by hitting his shot within a foot of the hole to stay at 10 under.
Notes: Eric Meierdierks aced the 167-yard eighth with an 8-iron. … Only Dustin Johnson (2012), Lee Westwood (2010) and Dicky Pride (1994) have won this event in their first start here since the tournament moved to TPC Southwind in 1989. … This year, the third-round leader has won 11 of the 21 stroke-play events on tour.