Rickie Fowler birdied the last three holes to take the lead in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, overcoming a sluggish start in front of the largest crowd in golf history.
Justin Thomas went the other way, wasting a brilliant opening run with another late meltdown.
Fowler shot a 4-under-par 67 on Saturday to reach 14-under 199 with a round left at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course, the fan-friendly layout packed with an estimated 216,818 fans on an 80-degree afternoon.
‘‘I really made some good swings coming in,’’ Fowler said. ‘‘I just wasn’t getting the ball close enough and finally on the last few there I was able to get some good looks.’’
The fourth-ranked Thomas, the PGA Tour’s player of the year after winning five times last season, birdied the first six holes to take the lead. But instead of making a run at his second sub-60 round in a little over a year, Thomas had to fight for an even-par 71 that left him eight shots back. He dropped six strokes in a three-hole stretch, making a bogey on the par-4 14th, a triple bogey on the par-5 15th, and a double bogey on the rowdy par-3 16th. On Thursday in the first round, he had a double bogey on 16 and a bogey on 17.
Former Arizona State players Jon Rahm and Chez Reavie were a stroke back along with Bryson DeChambeau. Phil Mickelson was two shots behind, another former Sun Devils star riding the crowd support.
‘‘It means a lot to me,’’ Mickelson said. ‘‘It’s very helpful and very important to my success. I think it’s been a big instrument in allowing me to get into the round and play and have fun and get out of the technical side.’’
The crowd pushed the week total to 654,906, just short of the record of 655,434 set last year.
Fowler is trying to finally win in the desert. He finished a shot behind Hunter Mahan in 2010, lost to Hideki Matsuyama on the fourth extra hole in 2016, and tied for fourth last year.
‘‘It’s just a matter of time,’’ Fowler said. ‘‘It would just be nice if it was sooner rather than later.’’
The four-time tour winner began his birdie run with a 17-footer on 16 and connected from 9 feet on the par-4 17th and 18th holes. He also birdied 13 after playing the first 12 in even par with a birdie and a bogey.
‘‘I just kind of had to fight through it,’’ Fowler said. ‘‘The swing was just a fraction off. It wasn’t bad, still made some good swings out there, but just had to try and get the ball in the short grass, get some looks and try not to make many mistakes.’’
European — Lee Westwood couldn’t emulate his second-round 62 but did enough to stay in contention at the Maybank Championship in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, after shooting a 70 to trail the leaders by three strokes. The Englishman managed only three birdies in comparison to his mammoth 11 on Friday.
Jorge Campillo and Dylan Frittelli are the joint leaders after both shot 66s for 15 under overall.
European women — Australian Minjee Lee shot a 2-over 75 and held on to a one-stroke lead at the Vic Open in Barwon Head, Australia, the first tournament of the year on the Ladies European Tour.
Lee had a three-round total of 7-under 212, one better than Karis Davidson. Cheyenne Woods, niece of Tiger Woods, rebounded from a second-round 80 to shoot 69 and was five strokes behind Lee and tied for fifth.