NORTON — Day No. 3 of the Dell Technologies Championship, played in varying degrees of mist, drizzle, and honest-to-September rain, had TPC Boston looking more like a race around a NASCAR track than a golf tournament.
■ Changes atop the leaderboard were frequent, fast and furious, right to day’s end.
■ No one pulled away, setting up a likely mad dash to the finish line Monday for the $1.575 million top prize. Only four shots separate the top-10 competitors heading into Monday’s final round.
■ Sergio Garcia, hobbled early with a damaged putter, scooted around the last 15 holes using a combination of 3-wood, driver, and 3-iron as his chosen “short stick.”
No telling how the championship round plays out (a gorgeous New England fall day is in the forecast), but if you’re making the trip to Arnold Palmer Boulevard, don’t be surprised if a handful of these guys need extra holes (and a lingering New England sunset) to reach the checkered flag.
“It’s going to be fun,” said Justin Thomas, the mighty sprite from Kentucky, whose eye-popping round of 8 under par left him tied with Marc Leishman at minus-12 for the 54-hole lead. “I think the conditions look a lot better [for Monday]. Sunny, soft greens . . . hopefully I’m able to keep the momentum.”
Paul Casey, who finished runner-up last season to Rory McIlroy, shot 4 under for the day and is only one stroke behind the leaders.
Jordan Spieth (-5), Grayson Murray (-4), and Adam Hadwin (-3) all finished two strokes off the Thomas-Leishman pace, followed by world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm, each three back. Patrick Cantlay and Phil Mickelson stand four back going into the final round.
Rahm, whose bold play on Saturday left the Basque Basher at 9 under and at the top of the board into Day 3, slipped with a round of even-par 71. Johnson was the leader after 18. Rahm was in charge after 36. Now Thomas and Leishman, the gregarious Aussie, are knotted at the top, each of them navigating the 7,342 yards on Sunday without a bogey.
“Eleven through 14 . . . really, those are the tough holes,” noted Thomas, who missed the cut here last year and is playing TPC Boston for only a third time. “The rest of the holes, or most of the other holes, you can kind of feast on. That’s just kind of how I’ve approached the course.”
Johnson, whose game stalled after his strong opening surge on Friday, finally began to click again on the back nine Sunday after a front-nine 35. He poured in four birdies over his final five holes, draining a long-distance 44-foot putt on No. 16 for birdie.
“I caught a little of that fire at the end,” said Johnson, who leads PGA money earners this year with more than $8 million in winnings. “I was making good putts, but just not finishing, burned the low side of the hole too often. I’m just glad I’ve given myself a chance.”
Rickie Fowler, the winner here two years ago, finished in a pack of three that stands five strokes back. It was a strong round for Fowler (5 under), who stood 2 under after 36 holes. He’ll need to repeat the performance Monday, and get someone up top to falter, to have a chance to join McIlroy and Vijay Singh as the tourney’s only two-time winners.
“Nice to get some balls up and down,” said Fowler, mildly frustrated after being unable to separate from the herd through 36 holes. “I didn’t do a very good job of that the first two days. Made a few more putts today . . . a nice positive to take into [Monday].”
Thomas, without a bogey since his front nine on Friday, drained a total of eight birdies en route to the day’s best score of 63. Leishman, also error free, rolled in a half-dozen birdies.
Leishman arrive here ranked No. 20 in the FedEx Cup playoffs, which continue with stops in Lake Forest, Ill., and Atlanta. If he were to win here, he would head to Lake Forest ranked fifth, greatly bettering his chances for the $10 million bonus that will be handed out at days end in Atlanta.
“I dropped a few spots last week, missing the cut,” said Leishman, who went home early from the Northern Trust, stop No. 1 on the Cup playoff tour. “I knew I needed to play well and rise up the rankings.”
By far, the oddity of the day was Garcia, who forfeited use of his putter after banging it into a sprinkler head when chopping up his first putt on No. 4. Though only slightly damaged, it was rendered illegal and had to remain in the bag the remainder of the round.
Players can only replace a club if it is damaged in the normal course of play. Impromptu voluntary sprinkler head maintenance, though generous, does not qualify as normal course of play. With that driver in his hands as a putter, Garcia, with some $47 million in career earnings, looked like a pre-schooler with his first set of plastic clubs from Toys “R” Us.
Garcia finished 4 over for the day and stands T-53. He is 14 back. Fitted with a new putter at a pit stop, who knows, maybe he’ll make a charge.
More photos from the Dell Technologies Championship