LA QUINTA, Calif. –
Birdies, eagles and sunshine have always been the hallmarks of The American Express golf tournament.
There wasn’t much sunshine in the desert Saturday, but the birdies and eagles were still vividly on display.
By the end of Saturday’s third round, three players were tied for the lead at The American Express, but they were just three of eight players who held at least a share of the lead at some point on a cool and gray day that saw the final groups finish play in a gentle rain.
Tony Finau, Si Woo Kim and Max Homa all reached 15-under 201 and will share the final pairing Sunday on the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West. But 19 players will begin Sunday’s round within four shots of the lead, players ranging from non-winners like Cameron Davis to veterans like Rory Sabbatini to major championship winner Francesco Molinari to Patrick Cantlay, the highest-ranked player in the field at No. 10.
Scoring on the day was so low that the top 12 players on the leader board Saturday averaged a 66.7 score on smooth greens and with no wind, meaning no one could break away from the chaotic pack.
“I’ve been driving it great on a lot of the holes where you’re going to have a wedge or short iron in. I’ve been playing the par-5s really well because of that, too,” Homa said after a 7-under 65, the best round of the three leaders. “I’ve just been able to kind of put myself in a position to have good looks for birdie, and I’ve been putting great, so it’s just something about these greens, it feels like home.”
Finau and Kim each managed 67 Saturday, Kim playing without a bogey and Finau overcoming a bogey and a double bogey for his 67. Richy Werenski, looking for his second tour win in five months, made one bogey and one eagle in carding a 65 and is alone in fourth at 14-under par. Tied at 13-under are Russell Knox, who tied for the best round of the week with a 64, Brian Harman and Emiliano Grillo.
Overnight leader struggles
Not every golfer found a bushel of birdies on the day. Sungjae Im, the overnight leader, birdied his first two holes, but then struggled with his driver and hit two approach shots into water on the way to a 1-over 73 and a 10-under total, five back of the leaders.
Homa, the 2013 NCAA individual champion when he was playing at the University of California who owns one tour victory in 2019, was like many golfers in the third round who shot low despite being caught up at one point or another by the demanding Stadium Course. For Homa, it was a tee shot into a lake on the par-4 seventh hole that led to a double bogey, his only big mistake of the day.
“I got the big numbers out of the way,” joked Homa, known not only for his game but his popular Twitter feed where he critiques amateur golf swings with brutal honesty. “I guess I made one, but I only had 1-over par hole today, which is great around here. It’s great anywhere, really. Just hitting a lot of good shots. I was a little bit cleaner overall today, which was nice. Something to build on going into tomorrow.”
Finau, a past Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup member of the United States, is looking for his first win since the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. Finau had to overcome a three-putt bogey on the opening hole and later suffered a double bogey after hitting his tee shot into a lake on the tough par-3 13th hole. But he rebounded with three consecutive birdies starting at the 14th, with none of the birdie putts longer than four feet.
“I just knew what I did wrong as soon as I made contact (on the 13th), so I was able to, well, sometimes it’s not a terrible thing to hit a bad shot as long as you know what you did,” Finau said. “So it actually helped me on the holes coming in. I was able to hit a lot of quality shots really close, and I was able to finish off a solid round.”
Kim owns two tour victories, the last being The Players Championship in 2017. But after working with his coach Claude Harman III earlier this month in the desert, he feels his game is in shape to win again. Kim had perhaps the best chance to grab sole possession of the lead in the closing holes, but he missed a 10-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole and settled for a birdie. He then parred the final two holes to complete his 67.
“I thought that I played good and (that) the shot and everything feels okay,” Kim said. “But last two days I was putting pretty good, but shot was much better (Saturday) than the last two days.”
Like the leaders, Harman had to overcome a double bogey, his on the par-4 ninth which dropped him out of an early share of the lead.
“It’s one of those things you can make a bunch of birdies here, but if you get just a little off on a tee shot or a little off on a second shot you can get yourself in a really precarious spot,” Harman said. “That’s what I did off the tee there, and it sucks to make a 6, but I was happy coming back and making a 3 and a 4 on 10 and 11.”
For Homa, a chance to keep making birdies Sunday, perhaps under sunny skies, puts a smile on his face.
“It will be fun. It’s always fun playing around the lead. I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. I’ve been playing like this since (Mayakoba Championship in November), which feels good. It feels comfortable.”
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2021/01/23/the-american-express-max-homa-tony-finau-si-woo-kim/