Charlotte, N.C. — On his 30th birthday, Rory McIlroy used words like “patience” and “discipline” to move within two shots of the lead Saturday in the Wells Fargo Championship, giving the old man a shot at his third title at Quail Hollow.
In his first time in the final group on the weekend, Joel Dahmen needed those traits even more.
Five holes into the round – long before the two storm delays of a little more than an hour each at Quail Hollow – Dahmen hit a pitch into a bunker to make double bogey and blasted a chip 25 feet by the hole for a bogey and suddenly was four shots behind.
“I think in the past I probably would have went on to 77 or 80,” said Dahmen, the happy-go-lucky cancer survivor.
Dahmen recovered with an eagle-birdie-bogey-birdie stretch around the turn, held his breath when his shot on the 16th nearly went in the water and shot 1-under 70 for a share of the lead with Max Homa and Jason Dufner.
Dahmen only felt the nerves when he made his double bogey. Homa, who now gets his turn in the final group for the first time, felt them all day until he put a club in his hand. He handled the bustling crowd – he played with McIlroy – to seize the lead for most of the day until a tough bogey from behind a tree on the 18th for a 70.
Dufner made consecutive bogeys during the storm delays, answered with consecutive birdies and joined them at the top with a 71.
They were at 11-under 202.
Pat Perez had a bogey-free 66 and was one shot behind. Six players were separated by three shots going into the final round, a group that includes Justin Rose, who bogeyed the 18th hole from a poor tee shot and shot 68.
Dahmen had never been in the top five starting a round on the weekend, and he had a chance to fade quickly when he was 3 over for his round after five holes. But then he answered with a shot into 12 feet on the par-5 seventh for eagle, a wedge to 6 feet for birdie on the next hole and was solid the rest of the way.
“I thought I was going to be a lot more nervous in those opening holes and I wasn’t,” Dahmen said. “After I made double, then I got nervous because I didn’t want to shoot myself out of this thing. I wanted to keep having fun and keep being in this tournament. Geno, my caddie, did a great job today, just kept it light.”
That would be Geno Bonnalie, who two years ago when McIlroy parted with his caddie put out a mock application for the job on social media that began by taking credit for guiding Dahmen to a tie for 68th in the Reno-Tahoe Open.
Homa ended 30 holes without a bogey when he missed a 6-footer for par on the 11th hole, and he failed to convert two birdie chances before his bogey at the end. Now it’s his turn to play in the final group on Sunday with Dufner.
“All you can ask for is to have a chance,” Homa said. “I think I did that today. Obviously, we have a long 18 holes to go on a hard golf course, but I’m proud of the round. I like how I played, I like my chances and I like where I’m standing after three days.”
Dahmen will be in the penultimate group with Perez.
With two players going for their first win, and Dufner still trying to emerge from a slump, McIlroy liked his position two shots behind. He heard “Happy Birthday” at every turn, made his first birdie as a 30-year-old on hit the par-5 seventh hole and looked to be ready to make a move when he hit from a loose divot on the 12th fairway to just outside 10 feet.
That’s when the second horn sounded to stop play. McIlroy returned and ran his birdie putt 5 feet by the hole, missed the next one and lost ground with a bogey. That was his last mistake. He picked up birdies on the reachable 14th and the par-5 15th and is poised to join Tom Weiskopf as the only three-time winners at Quail Hollow. Weiskopf won the old Kemper Open three times on this course before the tournament moved to Washington.
“This golf course really rewards patience and rewards discipline,” McIlroy said. “And I feel like I was both of those today.”
The top of the leaderboard looked similar to when the round started, except that McIlroy and Perez are a lot closer, and they all have a lot more company.
Paul Casey made 15 pars and still managed to make up five shots on the lead, courtesy of a pair of eagles and on birdie. He was four shots back at 7-under 206, along with Seamus Power (69).
Another shot behind was a group that include Sergio Garcia, who shot 30 on the front nine in the morning on his way to a 65, and Rickie Fowler, who had a 66. Fowler won his first PGA Tour title at Quail Hollow in 2012.
Sei Young Kim shot a 4-under 68 on Saturday at Lake Merced in Daly City, California, to take a three-stroke lead in the LPGA MEDIHEAL Championship.
Playing through a back injury that has forced her to alter her swing, Kim rebounded from an opening bogey with an eagle on the par-5 fifth. The 26-year-old South Korean added birdies on the par-4 11th and par-5 15th and 18th to take a 10-under 206 total into the final round.
Charley Hull was second after a 70. The Englishwoman missed a chance to pull closer when her 6-foot birdie try on 18 slid left.
Puerto Rico’s Maria Torres was 5 under after a 71.
Minjee Lee, coming off a victory Sunday in Los Angeles that moved her to No. 2 in the world, had a 67 to match Lexi Thompson (69), Amy Yang (70), Louise Ridderstrom (72) and Eun-Hee Ji (73) at 4 under.
Second-round leader So Yeon Ryu shot a 79 to drop into a tie for 20th at even par. She had four bogeys and a triple bogey in the par-4 16th.
Scott McCarron took a three-stroke lead in the PGA Tour Champions’ Insperity Invitational, completing a 5-under 67 in the storm-delayed first round and adding a 65 in the second.
McCarron was in the middle of his second hole Friday when lightning and heavy rain wiped out most of the play at The Woodlands Country Club on Texas. He won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic two weeks ago in Georgia for his ninth senior title.
Paul Goydos and Scott Parel were tied for second. Goydos shot 68-67 after only playing two shots Friday. Parel shot 67-68, playing 32 holes Saturday.
Colin Montgomerie was 8 under after two 68s. He started play Saturday with a par putt on his fourth hole.
Bernhard Langer, the winner last year for his fourth title in the event, was tied for 11th at 5 under after rounds of 69 and 70.
First he made the cut, now he’s inside the top 50. There’s no holding back 14-year-old Chinese golfer Kuang Yang in his first-ever European Tour event.
With a 3-under 69 that featured five birdies in his first 10 holes, Kuang moved into a tie for 44th place after the third round at Shenzhen, China, his historic appearance at the Volvo China Open.
On Friday, he became the youngest person to make the cut at a regular European Tour event – outside the majors – at 14 years, 6 months, 12 days.
Kuang is 12 strokes behind the leader, France’s Benjamin Hebert, who shot 8-under 64 to move 17 under overall. Hebert is three shots clear of Mikko Korhonen (65) and Jorge Campillo (68).
Second-round leader Wu Ashun dropped to fourth place after an even-par 72.
Kuang qualified for the China Open by winning the China Junior Match Play Championship in December, and has been playing in China-based events in the PGA Tour Series. He is still at school and says he manages to get in only about 15-20 hours of practice a week. He said he was underprepared heading into the China Open because he only recently completed his midterms.