- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2009

The hot putting that vaulted Rod Pampling into contention briefly deserted him Saturday at the AT&T; National.

An arcing 82-footer birdie brought it back.

Pampling, who scuffled early in his round at Congressional Country Club, bounced back with the long putt at the 14th hole to start a wild finish that left him at 8 under - just two shots behind co-leaders Anthony Kim and Tiger Woods.

“I guess that [long putts] were the easy ones,” said Pampling, who high-fived Woods after connecting. “The short ones you were sweating on because there was so much undulation that you were hoping they just went straight.”

Things were hardly over for Pampling. He laid up at the 16th, a par 5 playing as the easiest hole this week, and then spun his approach shot off the green. After a bogey there, he sprayed his second shot at No. 17 into the bunker - only to hit the pin and tap in for par.

Pampling then stuck his approach at the 18th within 16 feet, then rolled in the birdie putt for a 71 - just a shot shy of what Woods managed while grinding his way through the third round.

“It was kind of wild the way it was all happening in there,” said Pampling, who is tied for fifth and will play in Sunday’s third-to-last group with Jim Furyk. “Got quite unlucky on 16, but got lucky on 17 and made a good putt on 18. I guess it kind of leveled itself most of the day. At least not a lot of damage was done. We’re not far away. We have a good chance for [Sunday].”

Leishman’s early shot

The first two rounds came and went without an eagle on a par 4. Marc Leishman took care of that Saturday morning.

The 25-year-old Aussie holed out from 143 yards at No. 3, knocking it onto the bottom shelf of the green before skipping it up top.

“It sounded like it just trickled into the hole,” said Leishman, who shot 67 to reach 2 under for the week. “You could hear them when it was getting it closer and closer. Then it erupted. It’s always nice to get off to a good start like that.”

Leishman, who won once on the Nationwide Tour in 2008, is in his first PGA Tour season. He struggled initially - at one point missing six cuts in eight events - but a visit from his coach before the Texas Open ignited a strong stretch.

He tied for fifth that week and followed up with a tie for eighth at the Byron Nelson. Another round like Saturday’s - with some similar luck - could earn him a third top-10 finish in less than two months.

“Rolling in a few putts helps,” Leishman said. “That’s the biggest thing. I’ve been playing OK all year. Just starting to roll some putts in and get some close to the hole, and hopefully I can roll a lot in [Sunday].”

Holding ‘court

One of the most atypical rookies on tour delivered one of Saturday’s best rounds.

Matt Bettencourt, a 34-year-old, toiled on the Canadian and Nationwide tours until a late-season surge last year handed him earn the Nationwide money title and a promotion to the PGA Tour.

What’s more intriguing: He didn’t play in college and turned pro within the past decade.

“It’s just timing,” Bettencourt said. “I didn’t feel like I was ready. My game really started developing in the mid-20s.”

His game is just starting to thrive this year. He changed caddies, a move that provided him with a veteran’s outlook. He has since tied for fifth at the Memorial and tied for 10th at the U.S. Open - and he surged to a 66 on Saturday that brought him to 3 under.

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