La Quinta, Calif. — Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.
Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.
“Kip said, ‘Let’s finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.’ We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, ‘Let’s just do the same thing. Let’s get this line right and if you get the line right it’s going in.’”
It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn’t get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.
“I know that I wouldn’t have wanted to play the Stadium today,” Cook said. “I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.”
Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.
“Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,” Cook said. “Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.”
After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.
“I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,” Cook said. “I’ve been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn’t play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.”
He’s making his first start in the event.
“I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,” Cook said.
Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA Tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.
“Piller’s a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,” said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. “Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.”
Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys — three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.
“A little bit of a survival day,” Rahm said.
The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.
“The course is firming up,” Rahm said. “I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you’ll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.”
Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.
“I controlled my ball really well today,” he said.
Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.
Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under — four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.
John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys — four in a row to start his second nine — and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.
Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory at Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie’s approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.
It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour’s Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.
Rory McIlroy fired a 7-under 65 at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in the third round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship to sit one shot behind leaders Ross Fisher and Thomas Pieters.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy is on 16-under 200 overall with the former world No. 1 playing his first event since October.
England’s Fisher also shot a 65, while overnight leader Pieters added a 67 to reach 17-under 199 on a low-scoring day in the absence of any wind at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club’s National Course.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson (68) is five shots behind the leaders.
Defending champion Tommy Fleetwood (67) was tied fourth on 201 with Matthew Fitzpatrick, whose 9-under 63 is the lowest round of the tournament so far.