Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Chain-smokin' Levin dropping butts and making putts

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Spencer Levin passed on Phoenix Open title sponsor Waste Management's green-out, wearing a simple black-and-white outfit.

He didn't exactly soften his carbon footprint, either, leaving a trail of cigarette smoke and butts in his wake as he increased his big lead at TPC Scottsdale.

"You mean guys in the crowd?" he asked when questioned about fans giving him grief for smoking on the course. "Oh, yeah, (they get on me) every time, but I enjoy it (smoking)," Levin said. "They were asking to bum them from me, too."

He has lit up the Stadium Course so far, too, stringing together rounds of 65, 63 and 68 to open a six-stroke lead in pursuit of a breakthrough PGA Tour victory.

He wasn't quite as sharp with his belly putter as he was the first two days, but remained firmly in control in front of the largest crowd in tournament history, a noisy gathering of 173,210 in perfect conditions.

"It was fun for sure, but I was trying to focus, too," Levin said about the huge crowd and party atmosphere. "You don't get that too often, all those people cheering."

Levin, five strokes ahead after the completion of the second round Saturday morning, had four birdies and a bogey in the third round to reach 17 under. The bogey on the par-5 15th was his first since the opening hole of the tournament.

"I felt like I played solid," Levin said. "I felt like I was in control of my ball most of the day, and yeah, I'm pleased. I've never had a big lead like that starting the day, and I thought I played well. Overall, I'm pleased about it."

Webb Simpson was 11 under after a 68. At No. 6 in the world, he's the highest-ranked player in the field.

"I feel good, but my swing is just not really getting in sync," Simpson said. "I'm missing the ball left and right. I want to polish that up. But I made a bunch of good swings down the stretch that gave me a lot of confidence."

Bubba Watson is seven back after a 67. Kyle Stanley trails by eight.

The 27-year-old Levin, remembered for a hole-in-one and 13th-place tie in the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock while still in school at New Mexico, is trying to win for the first time on the PGA Tour. He came close last year, losing a playoff to Johnson Wagner in the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Last week at Torrey Pines, Levin had a share of the first-round lead after a 62, but followed with rounds of 76, 73 and 72 to tie for 43rd.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2012 B16

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