BETHESDA, Md. —A few observations from Saturday’s play at Quicken Loans National, where Billy Hurley III leads by two shots after 54 holes. For more on Round 3 at Congressional Country Club, click here to read the Daily Wrap-up.
HOLE OUT PROPELS ELS
There are very few things Ernie Els hasn't accomplished in his career. On Saturday, the four-time major winner added something new to his resume: a slam dunk eagle on the 12th hole.
"When the game gives you something, there's a lot of excitement and that as really one of the more exciting moments," Els said. "I don't think I've ever slam dunked it into the hole like that. I've had some run up slopes and run to the hole, but that just flew right in so that was a great feeling."
The 157-yard hole out was the highlight of a bogey-free 65 that moved Els to within two shots of Billy Hurley III at 13-under. The round also marked the first time in 115 rounds that Els hasn't recorded a bogey over 18 holes.
He attributed his strong play to a swing thought he picked up late in the day on Friday that carried over into his third round.
"I found a really nice swing thought yesterday on our 17th hole," he said. "Hit 3-wood just right down the middle there. I got that swing thought in my mind last night and used it again on the range and I just felt comfortable over the ball and then with the putter."
At 46, Els understands the importance of making the most of opportunities such as this one. On Sunday, he'll be playing in the final group with Billy Hurley III and going for his 20th TOUR victory.
It was only a few months ago at the Masters that Els started to become concerned with the direction of his game. The lasting image from that week at Augusta was a 6-putt on the 1st hole that made the South African take a step back and reassess things.
"Obviously, the one at the Masters was probably the lowest of what can happen to a player," Els said. "But I just kind of hit the reset button and started working on positive stuff and getting my mindset differently."
Despite missing his last four cuts, Els' return to Congressional — site of his 1997 U.S. Open — has been a Fountain of Youth for the veteran. With his swing and putting stroke in order, Els believes he has as good a shot as anyone to take home the title on Sunday.
"It was fun," Els said of the round. "Playing at Congressional is one of my favorite places to pay golf at, and playing with a little bit of confidence in the golf swing. I kind of found my swing and putting touch ... just been enjoying it."
HURLEY CRUISING AT CONGRESSIONAL
Sunday won't be the first time Billy Hurley III has held the lead going into the final round of a PGA TOUR event. Two years ago at the Greenbrier Classic, Hurley led by two shots only to shoot 73 and finish seven shots back of Angel Cabrera.
Hurley will be hoping for a different result as he goes for his first TOUR win in front of his hometown crowd.
"I can't think of a better one for me to win to be my first TOUR win," Hurley said. "It would be probably the best one of the regular season TOUR events for sure."
To accomplish the dream, he'll need to keep a field of former major champions and TOUR winners at bay. Through three rounds, that hasn't been a problem for the 34-year-old from Annapolis, Maryland.
Playing alongside Jon Rahm for the third straight round, Hurley looked nearly unflappable, posting a bogey-free 67 that pushed him two shots clear of Ernie Els. Through 54 holes he's only recorded three bogeys.
"The first three rounds have been pretty smooth golf really," Hurley said. "Hitting a lot of fairways, hitting a lot of greens and I've hit a lot of shots pretty close, too."
Hurley is seeking to become just the second first-time winner at Quicken Loans National — a tournament that produced his best TOUR finish (T4) during the 2012 edition.
Looking relaxed and in control for the first three days, Hurley now has his sights set on closing the deal.
"I've been here before so hopefully that experience and that, just the growth and maturity that comes from having been in the position to win golf tournaments before will show tomorrow and we'll be able to get it done."
Hurley holds lead, Varner ends on a high note
CALL OF THE DAY
Listen to free streaming coverage from Congressional CC on Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET.
RAHM GRINDS FOR UNDER-PAR ROUND
Jon Rahm posted red figures for the third straight day but had to grind out a positive score for the first time in his professional career.
The round was the polar opposite of what transpired over the first 36 holes that saw Rahm hit fairways and greens with regularity. Saturday started with back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 3 and 4 and a tee shot on 11 that found the water. There was also a shanked tee shot on 13.
Even with the numerous roadblocks, Rahm managed to keep the damage to a minimum, never making worse than bogey.
"First thing I told my caddie was how did I shoot under par today?" Rahm said. "I could not explain it. That's just golf. It's not just how, it's how many."
Rahm will start the final round three shots back of Billy Hurley III, knowing that it will likely take another sub-70 round to win.
"I've been working to be here my entire life," Rahm said. "Even if it doesn't happen tomorrow, I know that I can do it so far, so a lot of positives out of it."
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Ernie Els' slam-dunk eagle from the fairway is the Shot of the Day
BRYAN IN THE MIX
With two wins this season on the Web.com Tour, Wesley Bryan has all but locked up his PGA TOUR card for the 2016-17 season. The next step is learning how to replicate that success on the TOUR against the best players in the world.
In only the second TOUR start of his young career, the 26-year-old is proving to be a quick study. Earlier this month at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, Bryan, who earned a spot in the field through a sponsor's exemption, contended for 36 holes before falling off the pace over the weekend.
After three rounds at Quicken Loans National, Bryan is in position to potentially record his first top-10 finish following a 4-under 67 that featured five birdies, including three in a four-hole stretch on the front nine.
"The front nine is where all the birdies are," Bryan said. "I've kind of struggled on nine a little bit, but I mean, you've got to get a feel on the front nine if you want to contend."
If Bryan were to somehow stay inside the top-10, it would secure his place in next week's Barracuda Championship field.
"It's a good one to kind of be thrown into the deep end, so to speak, and just kind of get my feet wet a little bit out here," Bryan said. "Anytime you can test yourself on a U.S. Open track I think it prepares you going forward."
VARNER FINISHES STRONG
The last three holes at Congressional Country Club have been kind to Harold Varner III. After recording three birdies over the first two days, Varner went 4-under on the three-hole stretch, holing out from 89 yards on the 16th that started a dream finish to the round.
"It was awesome," Varner said of the hole out. "Just got to keep fighting. This course isn't easy. I always should always get a birdie there. I hadn't made a birdie all day so my chances are becoming greater by not making birdies."
Varner added a 43-foot birdie on the 17th and a 19-footer on the last to shoot 70, moving him into a tie for sixth after 54 holes.
"I needed it," Varner said. "It was a tough day for me and I felt good that I just kept fighting and I knew that something good was going to happen. An eagle-birdie-birdie finish was pretty good."
QUOTE OF THE DAYI didn't want to talk to it so I said to Ricky [Roberts], 'You speak to it.' He said, 'Be right,' and it slam dunked into the hole.
BEST OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Congressional showing off this morning. Happy moving day. pic.twitter.com/6jj5Ca3RRX— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 25, 2016
That's awesome! Come out and watch tomorrow! https://t.co/MHBzSMMXLX— Smylie Kaufman (@SmylieKaufman10) June 25, 2016
Who do you think I'll be handing the trophy to tomorrow?— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) June 25, 2016
Goodnight from Congressional. 😍⛳️ pic.twitter.com/5SvWLPEVjZ— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 26, 2016