PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Adam Schenk looked as though he and everyone else would get passed by Jordan Spieth on Saturday at the Valspar Championship. When a wild and windy round finished, Schenk was still the player everyone was chasing.
Schenk hit his approach to the 18th hole to 5 feet and made the birdie putt for a 1-under 70, giving him a 1-shot lead over Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood as he goes after his first victory on the PGA Tour.
“We didn’t have a ton go our way until the very end,” Schenk said.
Neither did Fleetwood, who opened with a birdie and followed with 12 straight pars. He wound up with a bogey-free 69 and realized not losing ground was one of the best things he had going on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook.
Spieth, however, is who dictated the action.
He had a 69 and had to decide when it was over whether that was a good score on account of all the mistakes he made or a wasted chance to separate himself from the field. Spieth opened with a 6-iron to 7 feet for eagle. He led by as many as 2 shots.
But he made only three pars over his final 12 holes — on four of those occasions, he followed a bogey with a birdie. But that ended on the 18th when he hit a tree on his drive, went into a front bunker and then blasted by the pin to the collar for a final bogey.
“I didn’t have my best stuff in the approach game, but overall I’m in a good spot for tomorrow,” Spieth said.
Schenk was at 8-under 205 and will play in the final group with Spieth, whose game appears to be rounding into form with the Masters on the horizon.
Schenk is playing his 10th week in a row because his wife, Courtney, is expecting their first child at the end of April. He also is entered in the field next week in the Dominican Republic, though a victory could change everything.
That feels a long way off.
Eight players were within 3 shots of the lead. Webb Simpson had a 68 that included a bogey on the par-5 14th when he hit into the water while trying to lay up. He was 2 shots behind, along with Taylor Moore (69) and Cody Gribble (70), who had short birdie putts on the 16th and 17th holes and narrowly missed a 20-footer in his bid to birdie all three holes as part of the “Snake Pit” on the Copperhead course.
Patton Kizzire had a 67 and posted early, not sure where that would leave him. Spieth had a lot to do with that and he wound up keeping everyone close.
“Eventful,” is how Spieth described his round.
He missed a 5-foot par putt on No. 7. He hit a 6-iron to 12 feet for birdie on No. 8. He missed a 7-foot par putt on the 10th, and then hit a bunker shot that landed in the collar and bounced out to 3 feet for birdie on the par-5 11th.
Spieth followed a three-putt bogey on the 13th with a 3-wood to 35 feet for a two-putt birdie on the 14th. It was like that throughout the back nine, and Spieth looked to have settled down with a 10-foot par putt on the 17th, only to send his tee shot into the trees on 18.
“I made a few too many mistakes, but overall in these conditions, I think I would have signed for 2 under,” Spieth said.
The weather was as wild as his round, gusting to 20 mph and shifting to an entirely different direction as the final groups were on the back nine. Players were hitting 9-iron into the par-3 17th earlier in the round, and Gribble had to hit 5-iron late in the day.
Rain that was expected never arrived, though Innisbrook was expecting showers overnight that could put a premium on scoring.
Fleetwood was the steadiest of the bunch. He made birdie on the par-5 opening hole and the par-5 14th, and was had a collection of big par putts to keep some momentum.
“I kept plugging away,” Fleetwood said. “Pars were good. Birdies were hard to come by. The middle stretch the par saves on 9 and 10 were good putts to hole. I never went backward. I was very happy with anything par or better.”