Players spent the week at the AT&T National worrying over the course's difficulty. Then came Saturday.
Seven players tied or broke the course record, defying Aronimink Golf Club's inherent difficulty. The most stunning round came from Nick Watney, who shot an 8-under-par 27 on the back nine on his way to a course-record 62 that earned him a spot in today's final group with Rickie Fowler and K.J. Choi.
After Choi made a 26-foot putt on No. 18 for the day's 280th birdie, tournament officials turned their attention to a firmer setup today that might rein in the scoring. At least that's what players expect.
"I don't know what they're going to do, but I don't think they're going to water the greens," said Steve Marino, whose 7-under 63 held the course record for about 30 minutes. "I think they might be a little mean tomorrow."
On Saturday, they were not mean. Aronimink played at 6,841 yards, nearly 400 shorter than its scorecard length of 7,237.
Add greens softened by an overnight watering, friendly pins and no breeze, and the AT&T National turned into a Nationwide Tour event. The scoring average of 69.239 was the lowest, by nearly 11/2 strokes, of the seven AT&T National tournament rounds played at Aronimink.
Before Saturday, only two players had shot 64 or better in competitive rounds at Aronimink (Rose last year and Choi on Friday). Then came 64 from Cameron Tringale, Kevin Stadler, Webb Simpson, Chris Kirk at 63, Marino and Watney to lower the scoring bar. By the time Fowler completed his 64, reaching 9-under and tying Watney for the lead, the number had become almost pedestrian.
"They probably don't like to see this many low scores," Watney said.
Watney, who holds the field's highest world ranking at No. 15, made six birdies and an eagle on the back-nine to shoot the lowest nine-hole score on the PGA Tour this season.
With three PGA Tour wins, Watney might be best positioned of the two leaders to close today. But Fowler insisted he's ready to win his first tour event.
Fowler cooled after birdieing his first two holes of a front-nine 30. He missed two short putts on the back nine, and three-putted the 17th, to finish at 64.
During a season in which he has just two top-10s, Fowler can get his first win in his 52nd professional start. He begins today with a share of the lead for the first time since the 2010 Memorial, which Rose won.
"I've had some chances to go into the weekend and have some good finishes, but unfortunately I've missed out on some [wins]," Fowler said. "Looking forward to starting to change that."
Of the six players tied for fifth or better, three are seeking their first tour wins: Fowler, Marino and Simpson. Choi, the second-round leader with a front-nine 37, grinded with three back-nine birdies to shoot 69. First-round leader Adam Scott is two back after a bogey-free 67.
If conditions are as cushy as they were Saturday, Scott said the winner could come from deep in the pack.
"If I were at 5-under-par," he said, "I would still like my chances."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun