WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Billy Hurley III knows he may or may not keep his 54-hole lead at the Greenbrier Classic, but he knew it wasn’t going to keep him awake Saturday night.
He slept pretty well with his 36-hole lead, he said.
“Benefit of the Navy is you learn to sleep anywhere,” Hurley said. “I think I’ll sleep fine tonight.”
With the winds of Friday gone but hole placements very difficult, the U.S. Naval Academy graduate fired a 3-under-par 67 to stretch a one-shot lead into two. He sits at 12-under 198 through the first three rounds.
The man directly behind Hurley is different, Argentinean Angel Cabrera. The two-time major winner fired a 64, tied for the best round of the day with Michael Thompson and Cameron Tringale, to close at 10-under 200.
Hurley had his second and third bogeys of the week (the third and 15th, both par-3s), but more than made up for them. He stuck an approach 3 ½ feet on the fourth and 5 feet on the ninth, and tagged the flag stick for another birdie on the 12th.
Then he went to the 480-yard, par-4 13th, again playing as the hardest hole of the day, and birdied it to put him at 13 under. Briefly, he led the tournament by three strokes.
“Three pretty good shots there, and the ball was pretty tricky from 18, 20 feet coming down the hill,” Hurley said. “That one went right in the middle, and those were probably the three best shots back-to-back, on 13.”
He maintained his efficiency in ball-striking and putting. He has hit 36 of 42 fairways this week, reached 39 of 54 greens in regulation, stayed out of the sand altogether and used just 80 putts, 29 on Saturday.
He didn’t seem to be nearly as aggressive as he was when he shot a 63 on Friday, but he said his approach didn’t change.
“Yeah, there were some pins out there that you didn’t want to get near,” he said. “The pin on 7 [way in the back], you didn’t want to get close to.
Cabrera, several twosomes in front of the final pair of Hurley and Kevin Chappell, bogeyed the 13th but fired seven birdies — four in the first six holes. His putting in that stretch was sublime — he rolled them in from 19, 11, 24 and 26 feet.
Chappell stayed in contention with a 69, but fell three shots behind at 9 under. His downfall was failure to get up and down for par on the par-4 11th and that 13th. “Yeah, it was pretty poor, tee to green,” he said.
Thompson and Tringale lifted themselves to a seven-way tie for fourth place at 8 under, which signals a wide-open race for the four British Open berths to be awarded today.
At this point, the invites would go to Hurley, Chappell, Thompson and Chris Stroud (also at 8 under), the latter two on a world-ranking tiebreaker. The four highest players without already having a British Open exemption in hand will go to Royal Liverpool in just over a week. (Those four must finish in the top 12 and ties overall, which likely will not be a factor.
Others at 8 under are Steve Stricker, Camilo Villegas, 50-year-old Joe Durant and PGA Tour rookie Will Wilcox. All are close enough to catch Hurley, yet all want to correct flaws in their game.
“I’ve got to go to the range and iron out a few things,” Stricker said. “I’m not real consistent with everything I’m doing. I’m doing some good things once in a while, but nothing horrible, nothing great. It’s just been pretty blah and hanging in there and grinding-it-out kind of golf. Hopefully I can put together a longer stretch of good golf to make a move.”
Jim Renner is alone in 11th at 7 under. Bubba Watson and Bill Haas lead a mass tie for 12th at 6 under, while Davis Love III and first-round leader Jonas Blixt are tied for 19th at 5 under.
At the other end, 15 players were sent home in the secondary cut, including John Daly. Seventy-four players tee off today, beginning at 8:25 a.m., with Hurley and Cabrera going off at 2:05 p.m.
Hurley isn’t worried about playing with Cabrera, a 25-year pro with victories on the 2007 U.S. Open and 2009 Masters on his resume. Not much worries the Navy man.
“I just kind of tell myself, and I’ve been telling myself the last couple of days, just be Bobby Hurley,” he said. “He’s doing pretty well. We’ll stick with that and it will be a new experience.
“I’ve played with major winners a couple times before, but certainly not in the final group of a tournament.”
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.