MEMPHIS, Tenn. – U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III shot his third straight 2-under 68 on Saturday to join Nick O'Hern and John Merrick atop the leaderboard at the windy St. Jude Classic.
Love only committed to play in Memphis recently, waiting to make sure he was healthy enough to use this event as a final tuneup for the U.S. Open after qualifying Monday in Columbus, Ohio. Love, who hasn't won since 2008, had three birdies and only one bogey Saturday to match O'Hern and Merrick at 6 under 204. O'Hern had a 67, and Merrick shot 69.
Rory McIlroy, who will try to defend his U.S. Open title next week at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, had a one-stroke lead when he teed off. He shot a 2-over 72 in a round that featured six bogeys and four birdies to drop in a tie at 5 under.
Dustin Johnson, making his second start after a 2 1/2-month layoff recovering from back pain, also was in the group at 5 under after a 67. J.B. Holmes was in that knot atop the leaderboard going to No. 18, but hit his tee shot into a bunker and three-putted for a double bogey to finish at 4 under.
Conditions got tougher Saturday as the greens firmed up at the TPC Southwind course along with the wind picking up through the day and gusting up to 23 mph at times. PGA Tour officials already have pushed up tee times Sunday morning and will use threesomes off both tees hoping to squeeze in the final round before thunderstorms expected in the afternoon.
It was a wild day Saturday with eight players having at least a share of the lead at some point starting with McIlroy, who teed off with six just a stroke behind. McIlroy bogeyed two of his first five holes to fall off the pace. He tied Kevin Stadler at 7 under only to bogey No. 9 and fall back again.
The 48-year-old Love took advantage of his experience and 20 PGA Tour wins to keep his ball out of the rough, giving himself better chances to score. He said he only hit driver a couple times, instead using his 3-wood or irons for strong tee shots leaving him plenty of wedge shots in hitting 14 of 18 greens.
Love birdied No. 6 after hitting a wedge from 94 yards to 5 feet for his first. He rolled in a 10-footer for birdie on the par-3 11th, and he grabbed a piece of the lead with a 3-foot birdie putt on the par-5 No. 16.
Stadler birdied three of his first six holes and had a 3-stroke lead when he got to 9 under through eight. But he hit his approach on the par-4 No. 9 into the water fronting the green and bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15. He finished with a 71 and was tied at 5 under.
The leaderboard just kept changing up and down.
When Stadler hit into the water fronting the green at the par-3 No. 14, he wound up with a bogey dropping him into a four-way tie 6 under for the lead. Love made that a five-way tie when he birdied No. 16 just as Stadler yanked his tee shot on No. 15 so left past a cart path he had to take a drop and a penalty stroke on his way to a second straight bogey.
Kevin Kisner had a piece of the lead when he tried chipping onto the green with his third shot on the par-4 17th only to see the ball go only a few feet. That led to bogey.