Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Jon Rahm birdied the last two par 5s and got some help from a couple of poor chips by Cameron Champ to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mexico Open.
Rahm, whose last Victory was at the US Open at Torrey Pines last summer, pumped his fist Saturday when he holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th for a 3-under 68.
He liked how he played tee-to-green. Rahm got he hopes he can see a few more putts drop.
“That one on 18 was the first one outside 10 feet I saw roll in,” Rahm said. “If I can just keep that going and make putts like I did the first two days, I think Tomorrow I’ll give myself a really good chance.”
An hour or so before that key birdie on the 18th, Rahm was two shots behind and trying to keep up with Champ, one of the game’s longest hitters whose penetrating ball flight has been ideal for Breezy conditions at Vidanta Vallarta,
Champ went over the back of the green on the 15th and stubbed a chip that didn’t reach the green, leading to bogey. He just went over the back on the next hole, and this time clipped it too hard and watched it roll some 10 feet by the hole, leading to another bogey.
From just right on the 18th in two, Champ’s chip came up some 15 feet short and he had to settle for par and a 67.
Kurt Kitayama was tied with Champ after a 66 that also featured some late struggles. He was tied for the lead when he blocked his tee shot on the par-3 17th so far to the right that it ran across a cart path onto a dirt lie under the trees. He did well to make bogey.
Then, the former UNLV player with two European tour wins had 109 yards to the par-5 18th and came up 25 feet short, having to settle for a par.
Rahm was at 13-under 200, two clear of Champ and Kitayama. Another shot behind were Nate Lashley (64), Davis Riley (67) and Patrick Rodgers (66).
Rahm had two eagle chances on the par-5 sixth (20 feet) and the reachable par-4 seventh (15 feet) and settled for birdies. He drove into the water on the tough 10th and made bogey, and Champ pulled ahead with a birdie on the par-5 12th, and then Briefly stretched his lead to two shots with a long up-and-down from right of the green on the par-5 14th.
“I feel like I haven’t had everything there. My iron game, you know, I’ve hit a few Shaky shots, but I’ve just been able to get around and score, ”Champ said. “I love it here. It suits me well. I love the wind. Just excited for it. ”
Rahm Wasted a birdie chance on No. 12 with a short birdie putt he missed. But on the 14th, they got up-and-down for a birdie and then played solidly on the rest of the way, closing out his round with a birdie.
It will be the seventh time Rahm has at least a share of the lead going into the final round. He has only converted one of the previous six chances on the PGA Tour, though that doesn’t account for his withdrawal from the Memorial last year when he had a six-shot lead and couldn’t play the final round because of a positive COVID -19 test result.
This figures to a little Tougher with only at two-shot margin, and with five players within three shots of the lead.
Riley, the PGA Tour rookie out of Alabama, lost in a playoff at Innisbrook this year. Rodgers is part of that high school graduating class with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. He was a prolific winner at Stanford, but has yet to win on tour.
Rodgers sounded patient about his approach to playing Vidanta Vallarta, and about winning. He hopes to use some advice he received from Jack Nicklaus, whom he first met in 2014 when Rodgers won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top NCAA player, and in recent times at the Bear’s Club in south Florida.
“It was really surprising to hear him say it, but he said he never tried to win a golf tournament,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, they got his fair share. He just tried to do his part and manage what was under his control and trust it would fall his way in the end, so I definitely need to listen to that advice as I take on this challenge Tomorrow. ”
Steve Stricker wanted to stay in bed on Saturday morning and some of the players at the Insperity Invitational probably wish he did. Stricker took advantage of calm conditions with a 7-under 65 for a three-way share of the lead in his return to the PGA Tour Champions at The Woodlands, Texas.
Stricker, who lost 25 pounds during a health scare that hospitalized him late last year, is competing for the first time in six months and already has a chance to win.
He was tied with Steve Alker (65) and hard-charging Brandt Jobe (64), who ran off five straight birdies on the back nine and then closed with another birdie when his 5-iron caromed off the wood framing the lake on the par -4 18th at The Woodlands.
They were at 12-under 132. Ken Duke was the next closed to them at 8-under 136.
Stricker had said he was still 10 pounds lighter than when he first started feeling ill, about a month after the US Captain led his team to a Rout in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. He was also concerned with Endurance having only played cart golf when getting ready.
It just hasn’t looked that way on the golf course.
He said he told wife Nicki, who is caddying for him, that maybe he shouldn’t play next week if this is how he was going to feel – tied for the lead after one round and still feeling lethargic instead of excited about contending. That feeling went away.
“It’s just a progression, I think, and just keep plugging along,” Stricker said. “Feel a little out of sorts when I’m up around the lead. It’s been awhile, but it’s good. It’s what I come out here for, and excited to be in this position. ”
For Jobe, it was a mild surprise.
He was playing solidly and then surged into contention with five straight birdies, most of them in the 10-foot range except for one birdie that he chipped in. The surprise came at the end.
Jobe pulled his tee shot into the trees left of the 18th Fairway. He wanted to go left and keep it just short of the green. Instead, his 5-iron from 187 yards came out straight at the flag, and Jobe expected it to go in the water.
It hit the wooden frame, bounced out to about 12 feet beyond the hole and he made it for a birdie to share the lead and have a chance at his third PGA Tour Champions win, and his first since the Boeing Classic in 2019.
“I got Lucky. I mean, that was a bonus, ”Jobe said. “I turned a 6 into a 3, so it’s kind of a nice way to finish.”
Alker had a wild time on the back nine, too. He opened and closed with pars. In between, they had two eagles, three birdies and two birdies. It added to a 31 on the back for a 65 and a chance to get over a playoff loss a week ago in the Dallas area.
Right in the middle of it all is Stricker, whose last competitive round was Oct. 10 until this week.
“I thought he didn’t feel well,” Jobe said with a laugh. “He’s just got his game in a spot where he can turn it on and turn it off and not many people have been able to do that. He’s got his swing and everything just in a spot where he goes out, he puts the work in, he comes back and it’s like he hasn’t missed a beat. ”