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A heavyweight battle and Cinderella story set for Sunday in Mexico

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A heavyweight battle and Cinderella story set for Sunday in Mexico

    The last group for Sunday’s finale at the Mexico Open at Vidanta has the makings of an all-timer, and it’s not just because two golfing behemoths are set to swing their heavyweight mitts. There’s a Cinderella story in there, too.

    Tony Finau, at 19 under, has a two-shot advantage heading into Sunday after a third-round 65. But chasing him at 17 under is world No.1 Jon Rahm and 21-year-old Akshay Bhatia, playing his sixth PGA TOUR event since earning Special Temporary Membership after a runner-up result at the Puerto Rico Open.

    Bhatia fired an 8-under 63 Saturday which would have tied the course record at Vidanta Vallarta – had Rahm not shot 61 earlier in the day. Still, Bhatia was 6 under for his final seven holes, including a fabulous eagle on the par-5 18th.

    Akshay Bhatia hoists iron high to set up eagle at Mexico Open

    Bhatia, who won in the Bahamas on the Korn Ferry Tour last season and said there’s something about tropical places that jives with him, recently started using the AimPoint putting method and he’s found success with it this week. He’s 174th in Strokes Gained: Putting for the season but is second this week – a dramatic turnaround.

    “It's pretty cool to make some more putts, speed's been way better and just a little more confident where I'm aiming the ball, and I know my stroke's really good and I roll it very well on a consistent basis,” Bhatia said. “It's really exciting for me just to keep figuring this out and get better and better because it's my first week doing it and I really like it.”

    While Bhatia has found his grove on the greens, Rahm is continuing to do basically everything right. His 10-under 61 Saturday didn’t just set the course record, but it also tied his lowest-career TOUR round. Rahm has four wins already this season, including the Masters, but has never successfully defended a title on the PGA TOUR.

    “Really happy with what I did and just glad I gave myself a chance for tomorrow,” Rahm said.

    Jon Rahm talks 59 watch and tying course record at Mexico Open

    Rahm and Finau had a final-round battle at THE NORTHERN TRUST in 2021 at Liberty National with Rahm ahead by two through 54 holes, but Finau ended up winning in a playoff and topping Rahm by two shots. Since then, Finau has won three more times on TOUR including back-to-back weeks last summer.

    Finau admitted he’s a leaderboard watcher and saw Rahm making a spirited Saturday climb.

    “I think it definitely got my juices going a little bit and was able to make a few birdies coming in to stay in front of him,” Finau said. “It was something I expected going into today, he's an amazing golfer.”

    Finau is having a solid campaign on the PGA TOUR thus far. He notched a four-shot win at the Cadence Houston Open earlier this season is fourth on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Total. While he’s admitted things have been a bit up-and-down with the putter so far this season, he’s 16th in Strokes Gained: Putting this week.

    Finau went out in 2-under 33 before adding three birdies in a row on Nos. 12-14 on Saturday. He added another on both No. 16 and 18 to close out his day after an unfortunate bogey on the par-3 17th. The highlight of the day came when Finau chipped in for birdie on No. 13 after knocking his tee shot 14 yards long on the par 3.

    Tony Finau's impressive chip-in for birdie at Mexico Open

    “I thought that gave me some nice momentum on a day where I was hitting it really nicely, wasn't getting that much out of my round,” Finau said.

    Ironically, this is not the first time Finau, Rahm, and Bhatia will play together this week. They played a practice round together (along with Wesley Bryan) on Tuesday, with all four golfers making birdie on No. 18. That meant the teams of Bryan and Rahm and Bhatia and Finau tied.

    There will be no tie Sunday, however.

    “They’re playing some good golf, all playing some good golf, so it will be a fun one,” Finau said. “Tomorrow there will be a crowned champion and the three of us will be vying for it.”

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