Round 3 review: THE PLAYERS Championship
March 16, 2019
By Mike McAllister and Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
Jon Rahm highlights from the third round
A quick look at Saturday's third round of THE PLAYERS Championship.
A year ago, maybe even as recently as eight months ago, Jon Rahm probably wouldn’t have found himself with the 54-hole at THE PLAYERS Championship.
He would have lost his patience after hitting what seemed like a good shot to the 14th hole that missed the green and left him with a difficult up-and-down. He would have been frustrated at the next hole, too, when his approach came up short and landed in the pine straw.
“I might have made both pars, but I don't think I would have been as relaxed as I was today, and I think that's what enabled the whole day, right,” Rahm said.
Indeed. What he calls a year of personal growth has reigned in the 24-year-old Spaniard’s emotions and allowed him to put his best golf on display as it was Saturday during a third-round 64 that left him at 15-under.
Rahm will start the final round with a one-stroke advantage over Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood, the first 54-hole lead of his still-young PGA TOUR career. He’s broken 70 in each of the first three rounds on Pete Dye’s challenging creation – one of just two players who can make that claim.
A victory on Sunday would be the third – and by far, the biggest of the Arizona State grad’s career.
“It would be absolutely amazing to name yourself a PLAYERS champion,” Rahm said. “It's definitely one of those events that they consider to get you in the Hall of Fame. It's career-defining.
“There's very few select players that get to win here and only a very few number that have gotten to do it more than once, so it shows that to win out here you need to play really, really good golf, so it would be an incredible win if I get to do it.”
Rahm says he played “OK golf” in his first two appearances at TPC Sawgrass with four sub-par scores and an 82 in his seven rounds. He felt that it was a golf course he needed to learn but says the move to March has benefitted him.
“I think the fairways hold up a little bit more,” Rahm said. “The greens are not as bouncy even though they're getting firm. It's just a little bit easier for me to read the grain on the chips and understand what it's going to do, so I'm just a little bit more comfortable.
“The course playing a little longer, it just plays to my strengths, especially if I'm hitting as good as I am with the irons.”
He’s been playing well this season, though, winning the Hero World Challenge and posting five top-10s in his last six starts. Rahm ranks first in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, a key for playing the Stadium Course, as well as in Strokes Gained: Total.
Rahm made seven birdies and an eagle on Saturday while dropping just on shot to par. And most importantly, he didn’t let that bogey get to him, playing his next 12 holes in 7 under.
“I definitely feel a difference in myself, and it's been great to feel that pride of all the work that I've done to get to this point, so hopefully I can keep doing it tomorrow,” Rahm said.
ODDS AND ENDS
Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy each showed some grit in bouncing back from tough starts Saturday in the final group. Fleetwood opened with a double bogey and was 3 over on his round through seven holes, then played his final 11 holes in 5 under. "The good thing about it was how good I was mentally, the character I showed," Fleetwood said. McIlroy opened with two bogeys but was a bogey-free 4 under after that. "I showed some character out there, showed some grit," McIlroy said.
It's the first time in tournament history that Europeans have been 1-2-3 on the leaderboard. Rory McIlroy just shrugged. "A coincidence more than anything else," he said. "I don't think you can put it down to much."
Mexico's Abraham Ancer is solo fifth at 11 under -- and evidently he's eating well this week. He's staying in a rental house with friends about 12 minutes from the course. Asked what's on the grill, he replied, "Everything from ribeyes, New York strip filet. We aldo did some scallops. We've done a lot of Mexican food as well. It's been great."
Jim Furyk was definitely worried he'd fall backwards into the water on his second shot at the 18th. His drive ended up just inches from the water, forcing Furyk to stand on the railroad ties. Furyk eventually used a wedge to punch out into the fairway, then quickly hopped forward to stay dry. "I just didn't have the stability," Furyk said. "I needed about three more inches and I would've been fine."
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is five strokes off the pace and knows he needs a "special round" on Sunday. "I need to go out and shoot a really good score if I want a chance to win," he said. Even if he doesn't, Johnson is in prime shape to post his first top-10 in his PLAYERS career in his 11th start.
Brandt Snedeker has recently reunited with swing coach Todd Anderson, and the move is paying off. Snedeker’s 65 on Saturday is his lowest round at TPC Sawgrass, and he’s missed just nine greens this week. “TA knows me so well, kind of knows my swing, and knows me personally, kind of how I process information,” said Snedeker, who worked with Anderson up until 2014. “We clicked right away.”
Ollie Schniederjans made a “lot of big swing changes” in the off-season, which may explain his struggles to contend in any given start. He’s missed the cut seven times in 13 starts, and his best finish since the start of 2019 is a T-57. But through three rounds this week, he’s found his game, and his putting was superb in shooting 65 Saturday. “To finally have a round like today and just to feel like I do about my game, to feel like I have a chance out there to go low and get in contention in big tournaments – I haven’t felt like that,” Schniederjans said. “Last year I didn’t feel like that.”
BRANDT SNEDEKER (65/10 under) – Not only was it his lowest score in 29 career rounds at TPC Sawgrass, it’s also the first time he has gone bogey-free here.
KEEGAN BRADLEY (68/10 under) – The 18-hole co-leader bounced back from a tough Friday by playing the last 12 holes in a bogey-free 6 under.
ADAM SCOTT (68/9 under) – Terrific front side (4 under) and was bogey-free until he found the water on his approach at 18.
JUSTIN ROSE (68/8 under) – A birdie-birdie-birdie finish gives Roses a small glimmer of hope on Sunday.
RICKIE FOWLER (68/7 under) – A bogey-free round and knocked it inside 6 feet for birdie at 17.
DUSTIN JOHNSON (69/10 under) – Moved into prime lurking position with a solid round (15 of 18 greens). Has one eagle, 10 birdies and just one bogey on the back nine this week.
PATRICK REED (69/9 under) – Shot 69 for the third consecutive day and has just four bogeys this week.
BRYSON DeCHAMBEAU (69/8 under) – Missed only one fairway Saturday but his irons were a bit off (11 of 18 greens hit).
WEBB SIMPSON (70/6 under) – The defending champ posted a 70 for the third straight day. Made 36-foot putt for eagle at 16.
JUSTIN THOMAS (70/3 under) – Paired with Bubba Watson in the first group out Saturday, they raced around TPC Sawgrass in about 3 hours. Watson also shot 70.
JIM FURYK (71/10 under) -- The good news is that he avoided falling into the water after a uneasy stance on the railroad ties at 18. The bad news is he's five shots off the lead.
TIGER WOODS (72/3 under) – Three bogeys going out; three birdies coming in. At least he rallied to avoid missing Saturday’s second cut.
FRANCESCO MOLINARI (72/2 under) – Last week’s winner at Bay Hill just hasn’t found the gear to get him in contention.
BROOKS KOEPKA (73/Even) – Suffered back-to-back doubles on the front side, and another double on the 10th. Immediately bounced back with an eagle at 11. Hello, rollercoaster!
SERGIO GARCIA (74/3 under) – Any chance of contending was snuffed out when he found the water at 17. The love-hate relationship continues.
Seamus Power aces No. 3 at THE PLAYERS
THEY SAID ITI think I'm the better-looking one, so they put me in the last group."You gotta use the left hand. He used the other hand. I’ll give him a lesson later.
I think one at 17 tomorrow would be very appropriate on St. Patrick's Day.
BY THE NUMBERS
3 – Number of bogeys Rory McIlroy has made this week, fewest in the field.
7 -- Players who did not make Saturday's second cut, as the field was reduced to the top 70 and ties. The seven include: Jason Dufner, Anirban Lahiri, Tyler Duncan, Patrick Rodgers, Kevin Na, Adam Long and Patton Kizzire.
28 - Numbers of inches in Tommy Fleetwood's bogey-putt that he missed on the opening hole Saturday.
STROKES GAINED LEADERS: Off-the-tee (Tommy Fleetwood, 2.289); Tee-to-Green (Jon Rahm, 6.090); Approach-the-Green (Jon Rahm, 5.477); Around-the-Green (Brooks Koepka, 4.088); Putting (Ollie Schniederjans, 4.017); Total (Jon Rahm, 7.513).
LONGEST DRIVE: 368 yards – Ollie Schniederjans on 11.
LONGEST PUTT: 73-feet, 11 inches. Vaughn Taylor drilled a birdie on the par-3 3rd.
LONGEST HOLE-OUT: 190-yards – Ryan Moore. Holed an incredible eagle on the usually tough par-4 5th.
MOST BIRDIES: 7 – Keegan Bradley (68), Hideki Matsuyama (66), Eddie Pepperell (68), Jon Rahm (64), Brandt Snedeker (65).
BOGEY-FREE ROUNDS: Rickie Fowler (68), Brandt Snedeker (65)
HARDEST HOLE: Par-8 8th and Par-5 18th. Played to 3.225 and 4.225 respectively. Just 18 birdies between the two.