Saturday’s golf: Resurgent Poulter takes Heritage lead
Hilton Head Island, S.C. — Ian Poulter is ready for a break after a long, eventful stretch on tour. He has one more important goal to accomplish, though, at the RBC Heritage before any time off.
“We’ll see if we have a last bit of plaid to put in the closet,” said a grinning Poulter, referring to the tartan jacket giving the winner at Harbour Town Golf Links.
The resurgent Poulter will have that chance Sunday after shooting a 4-under 67 to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the RBC Heritage, putting him in position for his second victory in three weeks.
Before April, Poulter had not won on tour in more than five years. Now, he’s one more solid round from adding another title to his dramatic win at the Houston Open on April 1.
No joke, Poulter’s play is for real.
Seven of the Englishman’s last 11 rounds have been in the 60s after he had just three such showings in his first 20 rounds this season. His latest left him at 13-under 200, and a stroke ahead of Luke List (67) and Si Woo Kim (68).
“It’s been a long six weeks,” Poulter said.
He was incorrectly told he had qualified for the Masters after a quarterfinal appearance at the WCG Match Play championship. Then down to his final try to reach Augusta National, Poulter needed a birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Beau Hossler. Poulter prevailed on the first playoff hole.
He’s kept up that stellar play at Harbour Town.
“There’s been quite a bit of lows in the last 18 months, to be honest,” Poulter said. “So if you ride the waves and you trust yourself and you believe in your ability, then hopefully, it’s still in there.”
Poulter let it out once more to move in front.
He made his run in spurts, moving out front with birdies on the fifth and sixth holes before getting his last two on the 12th and 13th. He saved par out of the bunker on the par-3 17th, rolling in a rock-solid 6-foot putt and making a routine par on the signature lighthouse hole, the 18th, to stay in front.
“It’s just nice to play good golf,” Poulter said.
Kim was in front at 12 under after birdies on the eighth and ninth holes. He fell back with bogey on No. 12 and could not catch Poulter down the stretch. Kim, defending champion at The Players Championship, said he was disappointed in himself for feeling nervous early here. “I think it’s going to motivate me to be more aggressive and play well,” he said.
List took off with three straight birdies on Nos. 14-16. List, who finished second this season at the Honda Classic, is seeking his first PGA Tour win. List has withdrawn, tied for 39th and missed the cut in his three Harbour Town appearances. He had set the week up as a family vacation with a little golf involved. That’s changed. “I never really thought I’d play well here, but it’s kind of all come together,” he said.
Second-round leader Bryson DeChambeau had the confident stride of a pending winner with his first solo 36-hole lead as a pro — at least until the third round got going. After grabbing a two-shot lead with a birdie on No. 1, DeChambeau imploded with a triple-bogey eight on the normally birdie-able par-5 second.
DeChambeau struck his second shot past the green and out of bounds by some condos. He fluffed his fifth shot into a bunker, then missed a 5-foot putt for the dreaded snowman.
Three holes later, DeChambeau botched another par 5, the fifth, by rolling his blast from a bunker off the green and into a sprinkler cover.
“Unbelievable what’s happened on the par fives today,” DeChambeau said as he saw his ball.
DeChambeau had been 6-under par on Harbour Town’s three par 5s the first two rounds. He played them in 3-over Saturday on the way to a 75 to fall seven shots back.
In his only two previous appearances here, world No. 1 Dustin Johnson missed the cut badly — at 16 over in 2008 and 5 over in 2009. This time, he tried to channel the game that’s made him the world’s top-ranked golfer for more than a year. Instead, Johnson had bogeys on four of his first 11 holes before rallying to finish with a 72 and was 10 shots in back of Poulter.
Again, Johnson pointed to putter problems this week. Johnson missed five birdie putts of 16 feet or less on the front nine. “Around here, you’ve got to hole some putts if you want to compete,” he said.
Poulter and his chasers will have a quick turnaround Sunday with tour officials starting play at 7 a.m. and going off in threesomes on both tees because of expected bad weather in the afternoon.
Brooke Henderson pulled away at Kapolei, Hawaii, at gusty Ko Olina Golf Club to win the Lotte Championship for her sixth LPGA Tour victory.
The 20-year-old Canadian closed with a 3-under 69 for a four-stroke victory. She moved within two victories tying Sandra Post’s LPGA Tour record for Canadians.
A stroke ahead entering the round after late putting trouble in a third-round 73, Henderson finished at 12-under 276.
Spain’s Azahara Munoz had a 67, the low round of the day, to finish second.
Top-ranked Shanshan Feng (71), third-ranked Inbee Park (72) and sixth-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn (69) tied for third at 7 under.
With rain squalls and wind gusting to 30 mph, Munoz and Jutanugarn put together the only serious charges of the final round. Both came up a few holes short.
Munoz climbed 13 places and was two shots back after her fifth birdie of the day, at the 14th. But she parred in for her best finish in more than four years.
Jutanugarn, from Thailand, secured her fifth top 10 this year but couldn’t get the eighth victory of her career. She parred her final 11 holes.
Henderson was the only other player in the 60s. Her lead was only one t the 12th after her only bogey. She birdied two of the next four holes, while others dropped back.
Hawaii’s Michelle Wie had a 71 to tie for 11th at 3 under.
Steve Flesch needed 38 holes at Duluth, Georgia, to win the Mitsubishi Electric Classic for his first PGA Tour Champions victory.
Flesch, 50, birdied the second hole of a playoff with Scott Parel at TPC Sugarloaf in the event completed a day early because of forecast rain and lightning. Bernhard Langer dropped out on the first extra hole.
Parel bogeyed the par-5 18th on the second playoff hole after his approach hit the bank short and left and went into the water. Flesch hit long and right into the back bunker, and blasted out to 3 feet. The left-hander won in his 22nd start on the 50-and-over tour after winning four times on the PGA Tour.
Facing a forecast of 1 1/2 inches of rain overnight Sunday and the threat of lightning Sunday, tournament officials decided Friday to play both the second and third rounds Saturday.
Flesch and Parel birdied the 18th to start the playoff. Flesch and Parel each reached the green in two, with Parel leaving a 60-foot eagle try 3 feet short, and Flesch rolling a 50-footer to a foot. Langer laid up and missed a 15-foot birdie try.
Parel matched the course record with an 8-under 64, making a 15-foot birdie putt on 18 in regulation to post at 11 under. Flesch and Langer missed chances to win on 18 in regulation. Flesch missed a long eagle try, and Langer’s 15-foot birdie putt went to the left. Flesch shot 68, and Langer had a 69.
Irish golfer Paul Dunne held onto a one-shot lead of the Spanish Open after shooting a 4-under 68 through the third round at Madrid.
Dunne moved to 17 under overall after making five birdies, to go with one bogey, at the Centro Nacional de Golf.
Nacho Elvira of Spain (66) reduced Dunne’s three-shot overnight lead to a single stroke. World No. 4 Jon Rahm (66) and Henric Sturehed of Sweden (66) finished the day two strokes back.
Rahm, a local favorite coming off a fourth-place finish at the Masters, made seven birdies to move into contention.
Dunne, who won the British Masters last year, is seeking his second European Tour title.
“There was a lot of grinding there on the back nine but I’m happy to get in with 4 under,” Dunne said. “Probably wouldn’t have taken it at the start of the day but given the shots that I hit, I’m pretty happy with it leading into tomorrow.”