Naples, Fla. — Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry shot an 8-under 64 in modified alternate shot and shared the lead Saturday with Steve Stricker and Sean O’Hair going into the final round of the QBE Shootout.
McDowell (Northern Ireland) and Lowry (Ireland), the only international players among the 12 teams at Tiburon Golf Club, began to erase a five-shot deficit with an eagle and birdie on the opening two holes and they dropped only one shot all day in blustery conditions.
Stricker and O’Hair started the back nine with a pair of bogeys, rallied with three straight birdies and then dropped one last shot from the bunker on the 17th.
The teams were tied at 18-under 126.
Lexi Thompson, the lone LPGA Tour player in the field, teamed with Tony Finau for a 66 that put them in the hunt going into the final round. Thompson and Finau were three shots behind.
McDowell and Lowry tied for ninth in the World Cup last year. They grew up playing Irish junior golf and appreciate the difficulty of alternate shot, even the modified version in which both players hit tee shots.
“To go out and shoot 8 under in that format in these conditions today, I think it speaks volumes about the fact we’re both playing pretty well,” McDowell said. “We both had an opportunity to hit some good shots out there today and make some good putts, and it gives you a little bit of momentum going in there tomorrow.”
The format for the final round is better ball.
Stricker and O’Hair have each won the QBE Shootout, but not as partners.
Stricker, captain of the winning American team at the Presidents Cup, said he couldn’t get comfortable and put O’Hair in some tough spots.
“We should have probably been two or three shots better than what we were,” Stricker said. “Sean played another good round of golf and made some great putts in there to keep us going, but all in all, we’re in good shape.”
Keegan Bradley and Brendan Steele shot 70 and were two shots out of the lead.
Defending champions Matt Kuchar and Harris English had a 72 and were tied for last place with Zach Johnson and Charley Hoffman, who shot 70. They were nine shots out of the lead.
India’s Shubhankar Sharma shot a 7-under 65 to open a five-stroke lead in the Joburg Open.
Making his 10th career European Tour start, Sharma was at 20-under 195 at Randpark. He had a 61 on Friday on the Bushwillow Course and added a bogey-free round Saturday on the Firethorn Course — also the site of the final round.
“I’m really happy,” Sharma said. “I wanted to play even though I shot a 10 under yesterday and it is always difficult to follow up on a low round. I’m really proud of the way I played today.
“I’m very pleased that I came to the Joburg Open. I had my visa but it has been a very long season so I was contemplating if I wanted to come here. I’m really happy that I did.”
Sweden’s Christofer Blomstrand was second after a 62. England’s James Morrison (67) and South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen (70) were another stroke back at 14 under.
The top three players who are not already exempt will earn spots in the British Open.