Saturday's golf: Munoz takes 1-shot lead in wide-open John Deere Classic

Associated Press
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Silvis, Ill. — Sebastian Munoz tried to imagine what Saturday at the John Deere Classic would have felt like without electronic scoreboards around the golf course.

It have created a lot less stress. In rain-softened conditions at the TPC Deere Run, everyone knew that making birdies was the only way to stay in the game.

Caddies, golfers and volunteers help look for Nelson Ledesma's ball during the second round of the John Deere Classic golf tournament Friday, July 9, 2021, in Silvis, Ill.

Once the rain cleared and Munoz no longer had to deal with keeping clubs dry and umbrella open, the Colombian ran off three birdies that gave him a 4-under 67 and a one-shot lead going into the final round.

“It's huge,” said Munoz, who was at 16-under 197. “Every shot counts, and having every extra one for tomorrow might help me out a lot.”

Even so, there's reason to feel as though the 50th edition of this tournament is just getting started with 10 players separated by three shots.

Brandon Hagy, still looking for his first PGA Tour victory in his 93rd career start, also had a 67 and was one shot behind.

“Definitely within my grasp,” Hagy said. “I feel like I can hit all the shots that’s necessary to get me over the top. But the key is all these guys here can hit those shots, you just have to stay within yourself, and a few bounces here and there go your way, and we’ll see what happens.”

Five players were two shots behind, a group that included Scott Brown, who had a 63 to match the low score of the round. Adam Long (64), Cameron Champ (64), Kevin Na (66) and Ryan Moore (68) joined him at 14-under 199.

“The beauty of this place is it ain't over until it's legitimately over,” said Zach Johnson, a past Deere winner who had a 67. He was six shots behind.

Five of the last six winners of the John Deere Classic finished at 20 under or better, the exception being Bryson DeChambeau four years ago when he captured his first PGA Tour title at a paltry 18 under.

Luke List is among those within three shots of the lead despite his struggles. List began the weekend with a one-shot lead. He didn't make a birdie until the 10th hole, and when he missed a 6-foot birdie attempt on the final hole, he had to settle for a 71.

Even so, he still has a chance at his first PGA Tour title.

Of the 20 players within five shots of the lead, seven have never won on tour.

Five of the seven players within two shots of Munoz are not yet eligible for the British Open next week a Royal St. George's in England. The leading player from among the top five gets in the final major of the year. Munoz already is eligible, while Na has withdrawn because of international travel requirements.

Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker, a three-time winner at the Deere who chose to help celebrate the tournament's 50th anniversary instead of defending his title in the U.S. Senior Open, had a 68 and was seven shots behind. Stricker birdied his last three holes.

Munoz had two early birdies to take the lead, only to give those shots back with a pair of bogeys from the fairway. Those boards let him know he was falling behind.

“We could see on the leaderboard that people were going low, and you didn’t want to kind of fade,” Munoz said. “So it was really important to birdie 11, 13 and 16 coming in, so it was nice to be in the position I am right now.”

The timing is critical for some players beyond going after their first win. Players like Brown, Moore and Champ are well outside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup with only a month remaining before the PGA Tour postseason begins.

“At this point with my position in the FedEx Cup, I kind of need to win,” Brown said. “So it kind of frees me up in a way. I have one goal, and it's to come in here and win.”

U.S. Senior Open

Jim Furyk overcame a mid-round lull following the second of two weather delays at Omaha, Nebraska, and moved closer to winning his first senior major title.

The 51-year-old took a four-shot lead into the final round of the U.S. Senior Open after shooting a 4-under 66 on Saturday to get to 8-under 202 at Omaha Country Club.

“I started off real well this morning, felt I was striking the ball well and hit some good shots and good putts,” Furyk said. “When I came out from the delay, I kind of lost my rhythm. I kind of settled down and made a long putt and for the rest of the way played pretty well.”

First-round co-leader Stephen Ames birdied three of the last five holes for a 68, bouncing back from a 73 on Friday, and will be paired with Furyk on Sunday.

Retief Goosen closed with two birdies, shot 66 and was alone at 3 under.

The biggest mover was Steve Flesch. The part-time television analyst shot the best round of the day with a 64 and was at 2 under. Past Masters champions Fred Couples (69) and Mike Weir (68) were in a group with Wes Short Jr. (68) and Kevin Sutherland (69) at 1 under.

Tee times were pushed back three hours after an overnight storm with straight-line wind of 90 mph knocked over camera towers and downed trees.

Furyk birdied the par-4 fourth and par-3 fifth and, as thunder rumbled, tapped in for par on the par-5 sixth before the horn sounded to signal the stoppage of play.

About an inch of rain fell during the three-hour delay, and workers who cleared brush off the course in the morning used squeegees and blowers to get standing water off fairways and greens.

Furyk, who won the U.S. Open in 2003, hit the first six greens in regulation and then went into grinding mode. He hit only two greens while playing the first six holes following the delay in 1-over par.

He closed with birdies on three of the last six holes, hitting his approach to 4 feet on the par-4 18th and making the putt to extend his lead.

Ames bogeyed two of the last three holes on the front nine and then got a hot putter and shot 4-under 32 on the back to put himself in contention again.

All he did to start making putts was stand a bit closer to the ball.

“All of a sudden my eyes felt better, my stroke felt easier and more free, and I started hitting the pace right, which is what I was struggling with,” Ames said. “I hit some real quality putts coming down the end there, so that right there alone is going to make my dinner taste a lot better tonight.”

Goosen, who won U.S. Opens in 2001 and 2004, had five birdies against one bogey. His biggest disappointment was a three-putt for par on the 313-yard 13th after he drove the green.

“My expectations were really low in the beginning of the week,” Goosen said. “I was hitting it so bad the last few weeks, and I was trying everything. I just decided to stick with something, and as the week got on, I started hitting it better and better. My confidence is coming back a little.”

Flesch flirted with missing the cut for a third straight U.S. Senior Open but rallied with a couple late birdies Friday and was among the first to tee off Saturday.

Flesch bogeyed his second hole, the par-3 11th, and then went flag hunting on receptive greens and birdied seven of the next 13.

He said he was proudest of parring the 434-yard ninth, his final hole. He drove into 4-inch-high rough, chopped the ball out and got up and down from 85 yards.

“I haven’t had much luck in U.S. Opens or U.S. Senior Opens, for that matter,” he said. “But it’s fun to contend, and I really have nothing to lose, and that’s kind of how I played today. I imagine I’ll kind of play the same way tomorrow and just enjoy it.”

Flesch said he’s savoring the experience because his college-age son, Griffin, has been carrying his bag while his regular caddie recovers from back surgery.

“I’m trying not to get choked up,” Flesch said, “but I think he wants it more than I do anymore. It’s been fun. He helped me a lot. He’s a great caddie. He knows the game, and he’s been a great side kick for me these past couple weeks.”

LPGA

Sylvania, Ohio — Nasa Hataoka opened a six-stroke lead Saturday in the Marathon LPGA Classic, birdieing four of the last five holes for a 7-under 64.

A month after losing a playoff to Yuka Saso in the U.S. Women’s Open at Olympic Club, Hataoka has led wire-to-wire at Highland Meadows to put herself in position for her fourth LPGA Tour victory.

“I think the original thinking of this course was that it was a very narrow course so it might be difficult for me,” Hatoaka said. “Then it came out to be that the narrow makes it easier to get to the target, so I think this is what was good.”

Hataoka had a tournament-record 19-under 194 total. The 22-year-old Japanese player opened with a 10-under 61 on Thursday and had a 69 on Friday. She has played Nos. 14-18 in 4 under each of the three days.

“I think last five holes are usually the place where you really have to concentrate and try for the birdies,” Hatoaka said. “I think that kind of clicked and gave me those birdies.”

Americans Elizabeth Szokol (67) and Mina Harigae (66) were 13 under.

“I’ve seen the scores out here.” Harigae said. “Some girls — you can go really low out here. But you just never know. Golf is a funny game. I think if I just keep my head down and keep going forward, it might pan out.”

Esther Henseleit had a 67 to get to 12 under, and Saso (64) was another stroke back with Amy Yang (65), Austin Ernst (66) and Caroline Masson (66).

“My ball-striking was so bad today,” Henseleit said. “I think I hit one good iron shot today, so it really was a grind out there. I made a lot of up-and-downs. Holed a few good putts. It just wasn’t that easy out there for me today.”

Defending champion Danielle Kang (68) was 10 under in a group that included Stacy Lewis (65), Brittany Lincicome (67) and Jennifer Kupcho (69).

European Tour

North Berwick, Scotland — Thomas Detry and Matt Fitzpatrick took alternative routes to a tie for the third-round lead at the Scottish Open on Saturday.

Surrounded by vacated and scattered bar benches beside a grandstand at the back of the 17th green, Detry somehow got up and down for one of eight straight pars coming home in a 3-under 68 at The Renaissance Club.

“It was nice to hear the crowds and to see some beer flying around after that shot,” said Detry, who is seeking his first European Tour title.

Joining the Belgian on 14 under overall for the tournament was Fitzpatrick, whose own lucky break came at the par-3 14th when he overhit his tee shot — only to see the ball ricochet off a stone wall and back onto the green. He missed the short birdie putt but picked up two shots in his final three holes for a 67.

They were a stroke clear of top-ranked Jon Rahm, who dropped out of a three-way tie for the lead by missing a par putt from inside two feet at the par-5 No. 16. The U.S. Open champion crouched down and stared at the ball, not quite believing what happened.

Rahm, who started the third round in a share of the lead, rebounded from opening with two bogeys in his first three holes by making five birdies in an eight-hole span from No. 6. He shot 69.

“Just a couple of errors, whether it’s me mentally or technically, whatever it is," said Rahm, who is playing his first event since winning his first major title at Torrey Pines last month. “It is unfortunate that it’s been happening quite a bit the last few days. I’m usually very, very solid inside five feet. That’s usually my comfortable range. It’s definitely unusual.”

“But I’m making it up with a couple other longer putts and hitting really, really good shots out there. My iron play was exceptional today and it was great off the tee. Hopefully I can keep that going tomorrow and clean up the little mistakes.”

Australian player Lucas Herbert, coming off a win at the Irish Open last week, shot 64 — the second-lowest round of the day — and was alone in fourth place on 12 under.

A further stroke back, and just three off the lead, were Scottie Scheffler (67), Wade Ormsby (66) and Min Woo Lee (65).

Tahoe Celebrity

Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz eagled the par-5 18th hole Saturday to take a two-point lead over Vinny Del Negro into the final round of the American Century Championship.

“Eighteen is my worst hole,” Smoltz said. “I’ve been in the fairway maybe a couple times. It just didn’t fit my eye. I don’t get many eagles out here. I feel like I should. But that’s a great feeling to know when you can see the scoreboard, knowing that the putt puts you in the lead. That was a good feeling to make that putt.”

Smoltz had a 26-point round at Edgewood Tahoe in the modified Stableford scoring event for a two-day total of 51. Del Negro, a former NBA player and coach, also scored 26 points. In traditional scoring, Smoltz and Del Negro each shot 2-under 70.

“I make no bones about it. I want to win this tournament probably more than anybody,” Smoltz said. “That’s probably why I haven’t won it.”

Two-time winner Jack Wagner was third at 47 after a 23-point day. Former LPGA Tour star Annika Sorenstam was another point back.

Two-time winner Tony Romo was fifth with 42, and defending champion Mardy Fish matched Stephen Curry at 39.

Mike Modano, tied with Smoltz for the first-round lead after an albatross on 18, had a seven-point second round to drop into a tie for 12th at 32 points.

Charles Barkley was tied for 77th in the 88-player field at minus-21. Al Michaels was last at minus-59.

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