Commentary

Sunday at Memorial sure to be a show

Updated: June 3, 2012, 12:32 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

DUBLIN, Ohio -- Spencer Levin needs no sermons about smoking, having been reminded more times than he can count about the health risks. He also knows it doesn't look too good for a professional golfer to be puffing away, either.

Try as he might to cut back, Levin admits he goes through a few more cigarettes during the heat of a golf tournament.

Good luck kicking the habit on Sunday.

Levin, 27, leads the Memorial tournament and is a final round at Muirfield Village Golf Club away from his first PGA Tour victory.

But the last time he was in this position, he imploded at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, squandering a 6-stroke final-round advantage that included a shaky back nine and a score of 75.

He hasn't been this close since, and he certainly hasn't been in the same company trying to get it done.

Tour veteran Rory Sabbatini will be in the final twosome with Levin, looking for his seventh PGA Tour victory. One group ahead will be Rickie Fowler, one of the hottest players on the PGA Tour.

Spencer Levin
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesSpencer Levin, who is in front by a stroke after 54 holes at the Memorial, owned a 6-shot lead at the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this year at the same juncture of the tournament but carded a final-round 75 to finish third.

And playing with Fowler will be Tiger Woods, who is looking for his fifth victory at the Memorial tournament.

"I'm excited,'' Levin said. "It's all the practice and work from being a kid, starting to play golf up until this point, this is what I've dreamed of is to be in the lead of a tournament, especially Jack's [Nicklaus] tournament, something like this.

"This is one of the biggest tournaments on the tour. You couldn't put yourself in a better position. All those years and all that work and practice is going to come down to [Sunday] and I'm just really fired up about it. I'm really excited.''

Levin's 69 matched the lowest score of the day in blustery conditions that made Muirfield Village treacherous. Sabbatini had 71 and Fowler, who won the Wells Fargo Championship last month and has been a top-10 machine of late, also had 69 to move into third, 3 strokes back.

Woods had a somewhat disappointing day, although he is suffering with a cold and a fever that left him looking lethargic. He made a birdie on the first hole to tie for the lead, but four back-nine bogeys and a score of 39 left him four back of Levin's lead.

"I probably shot the highest score I could have shot today considering the way I hit it,'' Woods said. "But I'm only four back, and out here with the conditions, supposed to be like this [Sunday] again, anything can happen.''

Although he lost ground Saturday, Woods was impressive from tee to green. He leads the field in greens in regulation and managed to hit a fairway bunker shot on the 17th hole that had playing partner Scott Stallings in awe.

"He hit a wedge over a 20-story building to 10 feet,'' Stallings said. "I almost took my phone out and tweeted it.''

Even Woods was impressed, calling his wedge shot from 146 yards out of the bunker "tasty.''

But Woods missed the putt, sort of the story of his day. He missed birdie putts from 14, 10, 9, 10 and 10 feet. He did make a 25-footer on the first hole, but through three rounds, he has made two putts outside of 15 feet.

Woods does have a history around this place, however. He has won here four times, including 2009, when he came from 4 strokes back in the final round. A victory Sunday would tie him with tournament host Nicklaus at 73 on the PGA Tour, a number the Golden Bear was surprised to hear.

"We'll find a few more I had somewhere,'' Nicklaus quipped.

Woods will need to figure out the greens and probably get a bit healthier if he is to win for the second time this year.

"He feels terrible,'' Stallings said. "He was hacking and coughing. At one point I said, 'Are you going to make it?' I was starting to give him a hard time.''

Sabbatini is in his best position since winning the 2011 Honda Classic. And Fowler is right where he always seems to be of late -- in contention. Since a missed cut at the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head, Fowler has been tied for 10th in New Orleans, won at Quail Hollow, tied for second at The Players Championship and tied for fifth at the Colonial.

"Just being patient and kind of staying in the moment and not getting ahead of ourselves and just kind of focusing on each swing and staying really calm and patient out there,'' he said. "I've been swinging really well so that's obviously helped me stay very calm and collected out there.

"I'm very confident with my game and where I'm at mentally, so get ourselves in good position [Sunday] being a few back, got out there and have some fun and see what we can do.''

Leads have rarely been safe this year on the PGA Tour, as Levin spectacularly showed back in February. Only nine of 22 events in 2012 have been won by the 54-hole leader or co-leader on the PGA Tour.

And if nobody in the top four can get it done Sunday, lurking 5 strokes back in a tie for fifth are Jonathan Byrd, Ryo Ishikawa and Henrik Stenson.

For Levin, it is not going to be easy. Winning for the first time on the PGA Tour typically never is. He might need to stash a carton of cigarettes in a golf bag, a vice he acknowledges is tough to defeat under these circumstances.

"Yeah, well, it's legal,'' he joked. "And there's a lot worse things you could be doing.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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