GAINESVILLE, United States: Troy Merritt fired a tournament record 10-under par 61 Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to share the PGA Quicken Loans National lead with Kevin Chappell while Tiger Woods struggled and fell out of contention.
Merritt, a 29-year-old American ranked 180th in the world, birdied the first five holes and finished with 11 birdies against a lone bogey in the third round at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.
That left Merritt level with countryman Chappell atop the leader board on 14-under 199 after 54 holes with US star Rickie Fowler one stroke back.
“The big thing is we put ourselves in contention,” Merritt said. “I hit the ball really well and got a lot out of it. I think we’re going to have a decent chance.”
Fowler is coming off wins at the Players Championship in May and the Scottish Open three weeks ago while Merritt and Chappell each seek their first PGA title.
“I’m hitting the ball great,” Chappell said. “Shoot the lowest score tomorrow and I win. That’s the goal.”
The old tournament record of 62 was shared by Americans Hunter Mahan and Anthony Kim from 2009 at Congressional Country Club and Nick Watney from 2011 at Aroniminik.
Tournament host Woods sprayed shots all day on his way to a 74 to stand on 208, sharing 42nd after starting the day level fifth.
“Basically it was a fight all day,” Woods said. “Fought through it the best I could. I was hitting the ball left on the range warming up. Couldn’t quite get comfortable.”
Woods, a 14-time major champion who has not won a major since the 2008 US Open, is on a two-year win drought after struggling with injuries and swing changes the past two seasons.
Fowler fired a 68, highlighted by a 70-foot birdie putt at the par-3 fourth.
“The 70-footer is a bonus,” Fowler said. “That’s one you’re just hoping to two-putt and stay away from making bogey. So little luck there.”
Merritt, who missed the cut in his past five starts, matched his career low, a 61 last April at the Heritage.
Chappell, ranked 152nd, and Merritt, ranked 180th, have similar tales. Each has his lone pro win in a developmental tour event and has a PGA runner-up finish, Merritt last year at Memphis and Chappell at the 2011 Texas Open and 2013 Memorial.
Merritt began his record day with a 30-footer that set the tone, following with birdie putts of 13, six and 11 feet and an approach inches from the cup for a tap-in at five.
The run ended when Merritt left an 18-foot birdie effort short at six. His approach at seven was two inches from the cup for a tap-in birdie, but he gave back a shot at the eighth, missing a six-foot par putt.
Merritt ran off four birdies in a row starting at the 12th, all on putts of about 10 feet, and added another from that distance at 17.
“It was fun,” Merritt said. “The first two days I missed 11 putts inside of 12 feet. Today they all went right in the hole. Found a little bit of something on the putting green, squared my shoulders up just slightly. As a result I was picking the ball out of the hole versus tapping it in.”
South Korea’s Kim Whee, Sweden’s David Lingmerth and Americans Char¬les Howell and Jason Bohn shared fourth on 201 with Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa, American Bill Haas, Sweden’s Carl Pettersson and defending champion Justin Rose of England on 202.
“At least I have a chance. I have a shot at glory tomorrow,” Rose said. “It’s going to take something very low for me. Probably 63. It’s out there.”