Affrunti stays the course

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Andres Gonzales threw his putter into the bunker out of disgust. 

Moments later, Joe Affrunti casually tossed his hand into the air to acknowledge friendly applause. After Gonzales, Affrunti’s playing partner for the third round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind, sped his 42-foot putt on the 239-yard par-3 14th hole into the water and hustled to set up his drop out of turn, Affrunti nestled a similar putt to within 2 feet for an easy par.  

The scene repeated itself on the closing five holes Saturday at the PGA Tour’s lone Memphis event as Affrunti finished the day at even-par 70 to remain at 1-under par. The Crystal Lake native is tied for 48th at 209. 

Second-round leader Harris English, who rented a house on TPC Southwind, trails Shawn Stefani by a stroke entering the final round today. Stefani shot a 66 to get to 12-under 198.

“When I saw Andres’ ball go in the water I thought, ‘Oh man, what do I do now?’ “ said Affrunti, who was greeted at the driving range to a surprise visit by his mother Fran and father Peter, who drove overnight from Crystal Lake to watch him Saturday. “I knew it was a fast putt. It was downhill, downgrain and very shiny.” 

“[Gonzales] stomped around a little and went over to take his drop when it was my turn because I was away. I let him blow off a little steam and get over it. I wanted to keep playing smart and not get unwound. I can always block out things like that.” 

While Gonzales sprayed tee shots and chunked approach shots after his miscue on No. 14 and went from 3 under to 1 over for the tournament, Affrunti was focused on grinding out pars. 

He closed with a flurry and hit six of nine greens on the inward nine. Undeterred by the struggles of his playing partner or the massive, constantly moving crowd following Phil Mickelson’s (7-under 203) Saturday charge up the leaderboard, Affrunti hit the final three fairways and had birdie opportunities on each hole. 

With a 4-iron in his hand and 215 yards to the front of the green on the 530-yard par-5, 16th hole, Affrunti’s approach shot trickled off the green and settled behind a knoll on the fringe. A soaring flop shot on his third shot left Affrunti with an easy 2-foot putt that he tapped in for birdie.  

“I had to hit a perfect shot to get it close,” Affrunti said. “I just hit a high, soft flop shot that got in close.”

Lonely pins in isolated portions of the greens provided a challenging set up, and Affrunti couldn’t mark a birdie charge in a round that featured two bogeys and two birdies.

“I left a few putts short, which is always frustrating,” Affrunti said. “I hit it decent on the front nine but had a few squirrely moments. My ball striking got better on the back nine and I started to play solid.”

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