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Saturday's golf: Homa, Finau, Kim share 3rd-round lead at American Express

Greg Beacham
Associated Press

La Quinta, Calif. — Max Homa has the word “relentless” tattooed on his right arm so the Southern California native will see it every morning when he brushes his teeth.

Homa has been mercilessly chewing up the Stadium Course at The American Express with 17 birdies in the last two days – although it also bit him back with a few big-number bogeys.

Max Homa hits from the first tee during the third round of The American Express tournament.

If he can keep up the relentlessness Sunday, Homa could have his second career PGA Tour trophy in his arms.

Homa made nine birdies and shrugged off a double bogey on the way to a 7-under 65 in the third round Saturday, joining Tony Finau and Si Woo Kim atop the leaderboard at 15-under 201.

Richy Werenski also shot a 65 and moved within a shot of the lead at PGA West near Palm Springs. Scotland’s Russell Knox shot the day’s low round with a 64 – one stroke off the course record – to join Brian Harman and Emiliano Grillo at 13 under.

Finau and Kim both shot 67 and finished strong in the rain, joining Homa in prime position for a win. The tournament is Homa’s first of the new year on a course he has played regularly since he attended high school in Valencia, about two hours away in the Los Angeles area.

“I wouldn’t say it’s ever easy to make birdies, but I’ve given myself a ton of looks,” Homa said. “I think we only missed a few greens today, which is good. You just want to keep staying in that rhythm on the greens when you’re rolling it well.”

After beginning the third round three shots off the lead, Homa surged up the board with four birdies in his first five holes – before he put his tee shot in the water and two-putted for that double bogey on the seventh. Homa made up for it with birdies on five of his next eight holes, including three in a row down the back stretch.

The Burbank-born son of a well-known acting coach is giving himself positive affirmations in his bid to embody the word on his arm. He didn’t even get down after a miserable triple bogey Friday in which he hit two shots into bunkers and a third into the water before two-putting from 4 feet on the 10th.

“There’s obviously a handful of very daunting holes, but I’ve been fortunate enough to play here a ton, so I have a pretty good feel for the place,” Homa said. “I’ve been able to put myself in a position to have good looks for birdie, and I’ve been putting great. It’s just something about these greens. It feels like home.”

Kim, who is chasing his third career win, played the Stadium Course without a bogey for the second time in three days, while the streakier Finau bounced back from a double bogey on the 13th with three consecutive birdies.

Finau put his tee shot in the water on the 13th and then missed a 10-inch putt, but the Utah native rebounded with three of his eight birdies on a series of impressive approach shots.

“Sometimes it’s not a terrible thing to hit a bad shot as long as you know what you did,” Finau said. “So it actually helped me on the holes coming in. I was able to hit a lot of quality shots really close, and I was able to finish off a solid round.”

Finau is also seeking his second career PGA Tour victory and his first since 2016 despite heading into the final round with a share of the lead four times.

“Fortunately for me, I’ve had a lot of opportunities, so hopefully everything that I’ve learned, I’m going to bottle up,” Finau said. “I’m a competitor. I’ve won at every level. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t sting to not have another (title), so tomorrow is a big day.”

The field played through sparse desert rain in the afternoon. Precipitation finally fell in earnest when the final group reached the 18th hole, with Finau and Kim forced to pull out their umbrellas.

Second-round leader Sungjae Im struggled to a 73, leaving him five shots off the lead after four bogeys – including a triple bogey on the ninth after putting two straight shots in the water. First-round leader Brandon Hagy shot a 72 and was even with Im at 10 under.

Werenski charged into fourth with a round that included six birdies and was highlighted by an eagle on the fifth after an exceptional 224-yard approach shot left him a 4-foot putt.

The 29-year-old Massachusetts native is also seeking his second PGA Tour win. After going bogey-free through his first 48 holes at The American Express, he finally missed a 10-foot par putt on the 13th before rallying with two more birdies down the stretch

“I’ve been giving myself plenty of looks and just haven’t been converting them, and today I finally made some (putts),” Werenski said. “So I think we’re kind of turning the corner.”

Australia’s Cameron Davis had the shot of the day on the 15th, holing out for eagle from 157 yards away from a section of rough below the fairway. Davis finished the third round at 12-under 204 along with Rory Sabbatini, Chase Seiffert, Francesco Molinari and Doug Ghim.

LPGA

Danielle Kang played great, tying her career low with an 8-under 63 and protecting her lead Saturday in the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions at Lake Buena Vista, California.

Jessica Korda owned the day.

A sizzling 28 on the back nine – 9-under par – at Four Seasons Golf and Sports Club Orlando lifted Korda to an 11-under 60, just one shot off the LPGA Tour scoring mark.

Kang was at 21-under 192 through three bogey-free rounds. Her total tied an LPGA mark for raw score through 54 holes (shared by three others) and shattered the tournament’s 54-hole record (200). She will take a two-shot lead over Korda into Sunday in what sets up as a terrific shootout for the LPGA’s season opener:

Kang leads Jessica Korda by two and Nelly Korda (67) by six. South Korea’s In Gee Chun (67) sits fourth, eight shots back.

Jessica Korda, 27, is the older of the LPGA’s uber-talented sisters – younger sister Nelly, 22, is No. 4 in the women’s world ranking, just ahead of Kang. She followed a ho-hum start with birdies on six of her first seven holes on the second nine. She then finished with a huge kick, making an eagle on the 537-yard 17th hole, which she reached in two with a 4-iron, pouring in an 18-foot, right-to-left putt.

Korda added a ninth birdie at the challenging, water-guarded par-3 18th, where she struck a soft 6-iron to 9 feet.

The slick downhill putt tumbled in on its last turn, giving Korda the tour’s first 60 since Paula Creamer in the 2008 Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic. Korda became the fifth LPGA player to ever shoot that number.

The back-nine birdies and eagles were arriving at such a pace that neither Korda nor those playing alongside could keep up with the dizzying math. The two celebrities in her group – NFL receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Fox television anchor Brett Baier -– knew something special was happening and just tried to stay out of her way.

Korda’s round was just one shot off the record of 59 by Annika Sorenstam nearly 20 years ago in Phoenix. Sorenstam is at Diamond Resorts this week competing in the 53-player celebrity division.

“I didn’t process what exactly was happening until I made that putt on 17,” Korda said. “I was like, ‘Oh, OK. That’s nice.’ … Days like today don’t come often, so you really cherish them when they do. Everything has to come together to have a day like today.”

Fitzgerald, who said he watches the LPGA more than he does the PGA Tour, said of Korda, “It was mastery at its finest. She had complete command of her ball today.”

On a day conducive to low scoring –- overcast, light wind, and late morning rain that softened greens –- Kang, a five-time LPGA champion, made eight birdies against no bogeys and tied her career low. Her streak without a bogey was stretched to 70 holes, dating to the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in December.

The eight birdies were nice, but Kang took particular pride in a hard-fought par at the 17th that kept her card clean. She chunked her 5-wood second shot into a pond fronting the green, took a penalty drop, hit wedge to 11 feet and made the par-saving putt. When it fell, she gave a belt-high, intense fist pump. She then birdied the last hole from 4 feet to push her lead to two shots.

“Overall, I think my game is pretty solid,” Kang said. “I think my mental game is pretty strong this week. Just kind of chugging along. That’s what I’m doing, is just focusing on what I need to hit, and what I need to execute. That’s pretty much it.”

LPGA players in the winners-only field have been grouped with celebrity players in each of the first three rounds, but on Sunday, Kang will be joined with the Korda sisters in the final threesome.

Jessica and Nelly are best friends, and they downplay that any rivalry exists, but both are highly competitive. Kang is the player to beat, sure, but finally, the Kordas will play with something big on the line.

With a wry smile, Jessica Korda said, “You guys finally get your wish.”

Among celebrities, who are using a Modified Stableford format, former tennis player Mardy Fish (117 points) leads by six over former NFL kicker Josh Scobee.

Champions

Darren Clarke won the Mitsubishi Electric Championship by two strokes at La'upulehu-kona, Hawaii, for his second straight PGA Tour Champions victory, playing the back nine in 6 under in a closing 8-under 64.

The 52-year-old former British Open winner from Northern Ireland started the back-nine run with birdies on Nos. 10-11, added two more on 13 and 14, made a 10-foot par save on 15 and birdied 16 and 17. He parred the 18th to cap the bogey-free round in the first event of the year.

“Just to win, to get in the winners and to win again is certainly very gratifying,” Clarke said. “I love the Champions Tour. The guys have been so good to me out here since I’ve been out here, so welcoming. And the standard is so high, just it’s incredible. The guys really flat out can play. I’ve been fortunate these past couple tournaments.”

Clarke finished at 21-under 195 at Hualalai Golf Course. He won the TimberTech Championship in Boca Raton, Florida, in early November in his final tour start last year.

“I sort of broke through in Boca as you know and I sort of liked the feeling of that, Clarke said. ”But down in Abaco straight after, I couldn’t play Phoenix, had to go down to Abaco. Went down there with my group of mates down there, GFY Group. We play all the time. I give them lots of shots and all that sort of stuff and just keeping me competitive. I worked and practiced nearly every day from the break.”

Retief Goosen, tied for the second-round lead with Jerry Kelly, closed with a 64 to finish second. The two-time U.S. Open champion took the first-round lead with a 62, then bogeyed the final two Friday in a 71.

“It was a good week,” Goosen said. “I’ve not played since, when was it, November we last played. So got off to a great start and yesterday killed me. That’s the thing about the Champions Tour, you’ve got to put three rounds together, otherwise you’re not going to make it. Today I gave it a good run, but Clarkie behind me played awesome.”

Kelly had a 68 to finish third at 17 under.

Fred Couples shot a 67 to tie for fourth at 15 with Scott Parel (66), Kevin Sutherland (67) and Mike Weir (66). The 61-year-old Couples shot a 63 on Friday.

The tournament was the first of the year, but the season is a continuation from last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down the tour for four months.

Europe

Rory McIlroy will take a one-shot lead into the final round of the season-opening Abu Dhabi Championship after posting a 5-under 67 in the United Arab Emirates.

McIlroy holed out from 73 yards to eagle the 10th and added five birdies to go 13 under, wrestling control of the tournament from Tyrrell Hatton (71), who trails by a shot.

“I thought I did well today. Obviously had that big stroke of luck on 10, the ball hitting the pin and going in,” the four-time major champion said. “Sometimes that’s what you need in golf tournaments to be in contention and to end up winning is those little strokes of luck every now and again.”

Hatton held a 5-shot lead when play was halted Friday because of fading light, but he finished the second round up by just a shot early Saturday before the third round started.

“I just felt like I had nothing really go my way,” Hatton said of his 71. “Hit a couple decent shots and ran into a bunker with a terrible lie and had quite a few putts burning the edge or lipping out. Pretty disappointed.”

One shot back heading into Sunday “isn’t ideal but a lot can happen in 18 holes,” the Englishman said.

Tommy Fleetwood (67) had six birdies to put himself two shots behind McIlroy and alone in third place. He rolled in a putt on the 12th from nearly 50 feet.

David Lipsky and Marc Warren both shot 68 and share fourth place, three shots back of McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman in 10 appearances at Abu Dhabi has finished second on four occasions and third three times. Apart from one missed cut, McIlroy has only one finish outside the top 10 – tied for 11th place in 2008 in his first appearance.

“I can’t go into tomorrow thinking it’s my turn,” McIlroy said. “I want to make it my turn. I have to go out there and continue to hit the ball like I hit it on the back nine tonight. If I can do that and give myself plenty of chances, I’ll have a real chance.”

Earlier Saturday, Justin Thomas missed the cut after he double-bogeyed the 18th.

Alexander Levy produced a hole-in-one on the 177-yard, par-3 15th. The Frenchman is eight shots off the lead.

“A perfect yardage for a 9-iron, wind from the left,” Levy said. “Hit a good 9-iron a little bit thin. I was thinking it was short but (it) bounced in the hole. Yeah, it’s a really good feeling.”

The Abu Dhabi Championship begins a run of three events in the “Gulf Swing” – the Dubai Desert Classic and the Saudi International come next.