Tom Watson, conjuring up memories of past heroics at Pebble Beach, Turnberry and Augusta, charged to a 6-under-par 66 Saturday to hold off Ernie Els for a one-stroke lead through three rounds of the Memorial Tournament.
Not since 1987 has Watson won a tournament on U.S. soil. But relying on his usual deft touch around the greens and a confident putting stroke, Watson put himself in position to break that 141-tournament drought.His 66, following rounds of 70 and 68 at Muirfield Village Golf Club, left him at 12-under 204.
A winner of five British Opens, two Masters and a U.S. Open among 40 victories around the world, Watson didn't have a bogey and birdied three of the last five holes.
Included in that string was a dramatic blast into the cup from the huge bunker fronting the par-4 17th. Watson narrowly missed a short but twisting birdie putt on the closing hole. As he left the green, he was met by a raucous ovation from the large gallery.
Els - at 26, 20 years younger than Watson - shot a 68, but lost his share of the lead when he flew the green at the par-3 16th and missed a long putt for par. At 17, he saved par after blasting out from almost the exact same spot from where Watson holed his shot.
John Huston, who broke the course record with a stunning 61 in the second round, shot a 71 to stand at 10-under 206. Joining him was Paul Stankowski, winner of the BellSouth Classic in April, who shot a 67.
No one else was within four shots of Watson.
Six players had a taste of the lead at one time or another before Watson took control.
Starting the day three strokes behind Huston, Watson parred the first four holes before birdieing Nos. 5 and 8. A two-putt birdie on the par-5 11th got him to nine under, but Els - playing three groups behind him - trumped that by rolling in a long chip for eagle from the steep hill leading to the green when he got to 11.
But Watson, who won the 1979 Memorial, answered with a birdie at 14 after knocking his approach to 10 feet. At the par-5 15th, he reached the back edge of the green in two and lagged within two feet for another birdie.