Saturday's golf: Watson, Hickok tie for 54-hole Travelers lead at 10 under
Cromwell, Conn. — Kramer Hickok finished the third round of the Travelers Championship too late in the day to go fly fishing again.
He’ll have to wait until Sunday to try to reel in the biggest catch of his career.
The 29-year-old minor league tour regular shot a 2-under 68 on Saturday to tie for the lead with three-time winner Bubba Watson. Hickok, who has never won on the PGA Tour, opened a two-stroke lead before bogeying the final two holes.
“I thought I’d be a lot more nervous than I am,” said Hickok, who went fly fishing on the nearby Farmington River after the first round. “I know those nerves are going to be there. It’s just embracing those nerves, not trying to fight it."
Watson shot a 68 at the TPC River Highlands, picking up three strokes on Hickok over the final two holes. Jason Day was also also in a tie for the lead before a bogey on No. 18 dropped him into a three-way tie at minus-9.
“When you’re playing in the afternoon you know the challenge ahead of you,” said Watson, who won the event in 2010, ‘15 and ’18. “You don’t want to play safe. In my stage of my career if I have a chance to win I’m going to go for it. That’s the key. I’m not going to worry about third or fourth place. I am going to try to go for it if I can.”
Hickock was 12 under — two strokes ahead of Day and three in front of Watson — heading to the 17th before flying the green and missing a 10-foot par putt. He was still a stroke ahead of the final pairing before three-putting from 8 feet on No. 18 to fall back into a tie.
“I’ve been in contention before,” said Hickok, who has victories on the Korn Ferry Tour and the Canadian Mackenzie Tour. “Obviously, this is a bigger stage. But it’s just about going out there and playing golf, and I play my best when I’m relaxed.”
Watson birdied No. 17 to move to 10 under and then missed a 5-foot birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the lead. Day, the overnight leader, putted past the 18th hole from 22 feet for a bogey to finish at 70.
Cameron Smith (66) and Russell Henley (68) also were 9 under, and three players were another stroke back.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson, who birdied the last two holes on Friday to make the cut on the number, shot 65 to climb into a tie for ninth at minus-7. The former world No. 1 reached the clubhouse just two strokes off Day’s 36-hole lead.
“To birdie the last two yesterday to make the cut, which I definitely wanted to be here for the weekend, and obviously go out today and shoot a nice score, it was good,” he said. “So I feel like the game is coming around.”
Johnson shot 61 on Saturday last year to move from a tie for 20th into second, two strokes behind leader Brendan Todd. His victory was his first in 490 days; a win on Sunday would give him his first victory of 2021.
Lizette Salas relied on precision and big putts to make up for a big power gap against Nelly Korda, and they wound up tied for the lead Saturday going into the final round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship.
Salas was practically flawless in delivering a 30 on the front nine to go from a one-shot deficit to a two-shot lead. She then made her first bogey of the week after 45 holes and didn't make another birdie in a third straight 5-under 67.
Korda, the 22-year-old coming off a victory last week on the LPGA Tour, played bogey-free but failed to use her length to capitalize on the par 5s on the back nine of Atlanta Athletic Club. She had a 68.
They were at 15-under 201, five shots clear of a trio that includes Patty Tavatanakit, the Thai star who won the first LPGA major of the year at the ANA Inspiration. Tavatanakit ran off four straight birdies toward the end of her round for a 65.
Joining her five shots behind were Giulia Molinaro of Italy (66) and Celine Boutier of France, who had a 69 while playing in the final group with the co-leaders.
Boutier had reason to think she was out of the tournament when she fell nine shots behind as the group was approaching the turn. She was playing fine. It's just that Salas was playing out of this world, and Korda was not too far behind.
Salas, who began the week by sharing her emotional struggles of coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, began her round by holing a 45-foot putt across the green. After a wedge to 3 feet for a birdie on the par-5 second, she drained a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 3.
That was set up by another fairway metal. Korda was constantly some 35 yards beyond her off the tee, hitting short irons when Salas was hitting hybrids and fairway metals. It's a wonder her caddie, John Killeen, didn't lose any head covers.
No matter. The 31-year-old Californian couldn't miss. She brought a U.S. Open game — fairways and greens, nothing fancy — to the Women's PGA and it worked.
Salas took the lead for the first time with a 5-hybrid into 25 feet and another long birdie putt on the par-3 seventh, and she hit a 4-hybrid into 12 feet into No. 8, a hole that yielded only eight birdies the entire round.
But after 45 holes without a bogey to start this major, Salas caught a tough lie on the edge of a fairway bunker left of the 10th feet, the ball above her feet as she tried to find balance on either a slope or in the sand. She played short, hit a weak wedge and two-putted from 25 feet.
Korda caught her with a birdie on the 13th, and they both made pars coming in.
Both will be seeking their first major on Sunday and will be in the final twosome. Salas has only one LPGA Tour victory seven years ago.
Korda is a rising star, the younger sister of Jessica Korda and the daughter of former Australian Open tennis champion Petr Korda. She already has five wins and is No. 3 in the world, the highest-ranked American. She has the gallery on her side, with throaty cheers for the tall, athletic Korda on just about every green.
Salas kept plugging away, determined to stay happy even as the grind of a major deep into the weekend began to take its toll.
Tavatanakit never lost hope even as she fell 10 shots behind, even after her driver cracking in the first round and two subsequent days trying — and failing — to find a replacement she could trust. The former UCLA star made up ground in the final hour with four straight birdies, including her 6-iron to 10 feet on the tough par-3 15th.
“I was just trying to go left, then I pushed one right and I was like, ‘For God’s sakes just carry that water.’ And I did it, and it ended up real being really close.”
Not so close are the co-leaders, though Tavatanakit did not lose hope. It's different from her victory at the ANA Inspiration, where she started the final round with a five-shot lead.
“Not going to lie, I like chasing more than I love having the lead,” she said. “I have something to look forward to or just look up to all the the time. Regardless of what what happens tomorrow, I feel like I already have a solid week, considering my situation with the driver. I feel like I really have proved to myself that I can play out here under any circumstances.”
PGA Tour Champions
Three opening birdies gave Steve Stricker an eight-shot lead in what looked to be a runaway in the Bridgestone Seniors Players Championship on Saturday.
By the end of the day, Stricker was hanging on at Firestone.
Stricker started missing greens and missing putts until his lead was down to three shots. He steadied himself with a birdie on the par-5 16th and wound up with a 2-over 72 to lead Jerry Kelly by four shots going into the final round.
“I like where I stand now more than three hours ago,” said Kelly, the defending champion who trailed by as many as 10 shots at one point.
Stricker three-putted the 10th, took double bogey from the bunker on the par-3 12th and missed the green for bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes as his lead kept shrinking.
He narrowly cleared the water on the par-5 16th with a 4-iron and the ball bounded over the green into the rough. Facing a scary pitch back down toward the water, he lofted it perfectly to 4 feet for birdie.
Two regulation pars put him at 7-under 203.
“I had a five-shot lead starting the day, I’ve got four now, so all in all I didn’t give away too many,” Stricker said. “Had an opportunity to kind of really distance myself, and that was the plan today is to get out, get going and be aggressive and make some birdies and get out ahead. But kind of got side-tracked there in the middle.”
Kelly, who opened with a birdie, shot a 68. Ken Duke had a 70 and was another shot behind at 2-under 208. They were the only players who remained under par.
Stricker is going for his second victory of the year, and it looked for so long that this one might be a breeze. Starting with a five-shot lead, he birdied the first three holes to stretch his lead to eight shots over Paul Broadhurst and 10 shots over Kelly.
Stricker had gone 39 holes without a bogey until his first one at No. 4. He still was in command until it all started to fall apart on the back nine.
“Until you’ve made that first bogey, you feel like you’re pretty invincible,” Kelly said.
Stricker caught a bad break when his 6-iron on the 12th caught the top of the bunker and rolled into a lie so bad he couldn't even get it on the green. Suddenly, it felt as though everything that could go wrong did until he played solidly over the final three holes.
“I'm fine,” Stricker said. “I just wish I didn't have the little hiccups there in the middle.”
The winner of this major on the PGA Tour Champions gets a spot in The Players Championship at the TPC Sawgrass next March.
Viktor Hovland is a round away from becoming the European Tour's first Norwegian winner after he opened up a three-shot lead in the third round of the BMW International Open on Saturday.
Five birdies on the back nine helped Hovland record the best round of the day with an 8-under 64 as he moved to 17 under for the tournament.
“I just try to stay within myself. I look at leaderboards to see where I’m at, but instead of trying to force things, I just tell myself at the start of the day just to take control of my own game,” Hovland said.
“If I don’t waste shots here and there, just play smart, trust that I’m doing the right things, I think I should have a really good shot tomorrow.”
Hovland already has two U.S. PGA Tour titles from the Mayakoba Golf Classic in December and the Puerto Rico Open in February 2020.
Jorge Campillo is in second place on 14 under, with Darren Fichardt one shot further back.
Second-round leader Niall Kearney is tied on 11 under with Bernd Wiesberger.