Sports

J.B. Holmes, Harris English share lead at Torrey Pines

Chad Campbell aces the third hole en route to a 68 and a share of second place at the Farmers Insurance Open

With the sun shining brightly from a clear, blue sky and only a slight breeze rustling the trees, Torrey Pines could not have looked more inviting on a winter's afternoon.

But for the players fighting to grab a spot on the leaderboard at the Farmers Insurance Open, looks could be deceiving.

Treacherous rough and firm greens made the South Course plenty tough on a Saturday when most of the tightly bunched front-runners scrambled to stay afloat.

"You've got to hit it in the fairway, you've got to hit some good shots and give yourself a chance," J.B. Holmes said. "You have a lot of 10-footers for par out here."

Clutch play around the greens made all the difference for Holmes, who recorded a four-under 68 for the third round — one of the best performances of the day — and heads into Sunday tied for the lead at nine-under 207.

While the Kentucky native was making his run, and overcoming a couple of those costly wayward tee shots on the final two holes, second-round leader Harris English was slipping.

English's problems began with a double bogey on No. 4, the first time he had failed to make par or better this week. He righted himself through the turn but suffered a bogey on No. 16 to fall back into that tie with Holmes.

"I know one-over par is never good on the PGA Tour, but it keeps me in the tournament," English said after his round of 73. "I could have easily pressed a little bit and turned that one-over into a three- or four-over."

If anyone had an advantage on the South Course — which at 7,698 yards plays significantly longer than the north side — it was the big hitters. Still, the conditions were far too challenging to allow for prolonged runs, so much of the scoring came in bursts.

Chad Campbell started things rolling with a pitching wedge off the third tee, making a hole in one that propelled him to eight-under and a tie for third place by day's end. He was joined there by Lucas Glover, who chipped from a greenside bunker on No. 18 for an eagle.

One stroke back, Jason Day helped himself with a delicate wedge that spun back into the hole for an eagle on No. 17.

"It was really tough to get close to some of the pins out there," said Jimmy Walker, one of the five golfers at eight-under. "I felt like pars were at a premium, maybe sneak a birdie in every now and then."

With Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson failing to reach weekend play, the tournament has lost some of its star power. Even golfers such as Holmes and English — who have won multiple times on the PGA Tour — are not exactly marquee names.

Day, the eighth-ranked player in the world, still has a good chance to make a final-round charge. Ian Poulter — known largely for his fiery play in Ryder Cup competition — is only three strokes back.

Asked about whether too much has been made of the fact that Woods and Mickelson have gone home, Holmes said: "I would like to see TV and the media maybe pay a little more attention to people that are playing well."

At the very least, Sunday should provide fierce competition among a dozen players separated by only two strokes.

But fans hoping for fireworks by way of low scores will probably be disappointed. Blue skies and ocean breezes notwithstanding, the conditions don't figure to be conducive.

Blame it on the tall grass.

"This golf course is a beast and you've got to realize that," English said. "This is almost like a U.S. Open."

david.wharton@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesWharton

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