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 in Puerto Vallarta.
Rahm, whose last victory was 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 said 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 went just 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 of 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, he got up-and-down for birdie and then played solidly 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.
LPGA — Hannah Green held onto the lead in the Palos Verdes (Calif.) Championship after a frustrating start on the hilly, windswept course perched above the Pacific Ocean.
Three strokes ahead of Lydia Ko and three other players entering the day, Green overcame bogeys on the first two holes to shoot a 1-over 72 and take a one-shot lead over playing partner Ko into the final round.
“I got off to a horrendous start, I guess you could say,” Green said. “Just short-sided myself too many times today, so I was actually pretty happy with the 1-over score. Just hit a couple of funny wedge shots and also didn’t read the lies and the wind direction.”
Green closed the back nine bogey-eagle-bogey-birdie and also dropped a stroke on the par-4 12th. The Australian birdied the par-5 16th and parred the last two to finish at 8-under 205 in the first-year event that wraps up the LPGA Tour’s two-week, Los Angeles-area stay.
Ko shot a 70, also overcoming a bad start. The New Zealander had a double bogey on the par-4 second and a bogey on the par-4 fourth.
She rallied with five birdies, the last a 30-footer on the 16th. She bogeyed the par-3 17th and saved par with a 7-footer on the par-4 18th.
“It was really windy,” Ko said. “I think there is a huge difference between playing in the morning and the afternoon. Luckily, in the last few holes the wind died down, so made it a little bit easier.”
Ranked third in the world, Ko won the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio in January for her 17th LPGA Tour title.
Green won both of her LPGA Tour titles in 2019, taking the major KPMG Women’s PGA at Hazeltine and the Portland Classic. She was second behind Nasa Hataoka a week ago in the LA Open at Whilshire Country Club.
Lexi Thompson jumped from a tie for 37th to a tie for third at 5 under with a 66, teeing off more than 2½ hours before Green and Ko in the final group. She’s making her first start since tying for fourth four weeks ago at Mission Hills in the first major championship of the year.
Anna Davis, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur winner, was 2 over after a 72 in her first LPGA Tour start. The 16-year-old is from Spring Valley east of San Diego. She received a sponsor exemption.
Champions — Steve Stricker wanted to stay in bed Saturday morning and some of the players at the Insperity Invitational at The Woodlands, Texas, 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 competition.
Stricker, who lost 25 pounds during a health scare that hospitalized him late last year, is playing 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.
European — At Girona, Spain, Oliver Bekker eagled the par-5 15th hole for the second straight day to shoot a 5-under 67 and take a two-stroke lead going into the final round of the Catalunya Championship.