Golf: Merritt fires 61 for early third-round lead, Tiger falters

(REUTERS) - American Troy Merritt fired a 10-under-par 61 to soar into first place early in the third round of the Quicken Loans National on Saturday as tournament host Tiger Woods spluttered with a faulty driver.

Merritt, looking for his first PGA win in his 96th start, carded five birdies in a row out of the gate, then added a four-birdie run from the 12th as he led in the clubhouse on 14-under 199 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Virginia.

Japan's Ryo Ishikawa was only one shot back through seven holes, a stroke ahead of Charles Howell III (through nine holes), Kevin Chappell (8) and Rickie Fowler (7).

Woods, who began the day three shots off the pace after posting a 66 in the second round for his lowest score in relation to par this year, dropped to seven from the lead as he struggled off the tee at the rain-softened layout.

The 14-times major winner, coming back from back surgery and another swing change, missed his first six fairways but scrambled to seven successive pars before making a bogey at the par-five eighth that put him at seven-under through nine holes.

Woods, whose world ranking has plummeted to 266th, has recorded three missed cuts, a withdrawal and just one top-25 finish in eight starts on the 2014-15 PGA Tour.