Saturday's golf: Sputtering Rahm, superb Smith share lead at Northern Trust
Jersey City, N.J. – Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith were tied for the lead Saturday in The Northern Trust, and neither could have imagined how they got there.
Smith had never shot better than 62 – twice this year on the PGA Tour, once at his home club in Brisbane, Australia – when he stood over a 12-foot putt on the 18th hole at Liberty National for a chance at the 13th sub-60 round on the PGA Tour.
He missed and had to settle for the course record at 11-under 60, and figured that would at least keep him in range of the world’s No. 1 player.
“Jon is playing some pretty good at the minute, so we’ve got to try to catch up,” Smith said.
Thanks to Rahm, he did.
The U.S. Open champion ran off four birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn to regain the lead and had good scoring chances ahead of him. But he twice hit into the water on the second- and third-easiest holes, dropped a combined three shots and had to rally for a 67.
They were at 16-under 197 and now get a day off because of Hurricane Henri. The PGA Tour looked at the path, and there was enough rain and dangerous wind on the edges of the storm that they decided to close Liberty National on Sunday. The final round will be Monday.
With even a possibility of more rain and no more golf, Rahm wanted the 54-hole lead. At worst, he was determined not to fall behind.
“I didn’t want to leave it up to chance,” he said.
Rahm didn’t find too much wrong with his game. He thought his 4-iron into the par-5 13th was flush and started walking forward, waiting for the ball to hit the green. He noticed his caddie wasn’t moving.
“It was a little higher than I expected it and seems like the wind might have picked up a little bit,” Rahm said. “It looked like about this short from covering, so it’s one of those things that happen in golf.”
He took a penalty drop, pulled his next shot into thick grass on a bank and made double bogey.
Rahm was just to the left of the reachable par-4 16th in what he thought was a soft lie. The idea was to give himself a chance at birdie and make par at worst. But it came out hot, rolled across the green and into the water and led to bogey.
Rahm and Smith were one shot ahead of Erik van Rooyen of South Africa, who made 10 birdies for a 62, one of four rounds at 62 or lower.
Justin Thomas (67) and Tony Finau (68) were three shots behind. Shane Lowry and Corey Conners each shot 62 and remained in the mix.
The average score in the third round was 68.3
Smith teed off some three hours before the leaders and opened with five birdies in six holes, one of several good starts. The Australian, however, kept it going. He picked up his eighth birdie on the 13th, came within a foot of a hole-in-one on the 14th and started thinking 59.
Smith narrowly missed an eagle putt on the 16th, hit a wedge stiff on the 17th to reach 11 under for the round and was one birdie away from the 13th sub-60 round on the PGA Tour. His approach to the 18th settled 12 feet to the right of the flag.
“Just didn’t do it,” Smith said.
Rahm had a superb par save beyond the 14th green, hit it close for a short birdie on the 15th to regain a share of the lead. And after his bogey on the 16th, he responded with another birdie on the 17th hole.
And now, a day of rest across. That’s not the worst scenario for Smith, knowing it’s tough to return the day after a record score and try to match it. It’s not the worst for those staying across the Hudson River in Manhattan.
“There’s worst cities to be stuck in,” Lowry said. “I’m sure I’ll find something to do.”
Besides, Rahm said speaks from experience on having limited activity with nowhere to go.
“If COVID quarantine has taught us anything, it’s what to do the whole day cooped up in a room,” he said.
Thomas was among several players making a move that got stopped in their tracks. He started the back nine with three birdies in four holes, only to go long of the par-3 14th into a hazard and made double bogey. Even so, he’s very much in the mix.
Harold Varner III made his blunder at the worst time. A poor drive on the 18th was followed by a blocked approach over the wall and into the hazard. He made triple bogey, had to settle for a 68 and went form one shot off the lead to a tie for ninth, four shots behind.
Varner is still in good shape to be among the top 70 in the FedEx Cup who advance to next week. More pressure is on Tom Hoge (No. 108) and Keith Mitchell (No. 101), who have to finish somewhere around the top 10 to keep their seasons going.
Hoge shot 67 and was tied for sixth with Lowry and Viktor Hovland (65), three shots behind. Mitchell took triple bogey with a bad drive on the 10th. He was tied for 11th, five behind.
Women's British Open
Anna Nordqvist and Nanna Koerstz Madsen, Scandinavians with contrasting resumes in golf, share the lead heading into the final round of the Women’s British Open.
A bunched-up chasing pack, containing Nelly Korda and Lexi Thompson, promises to make it a Sunday to remember at Carnoustie.
In the toughest conditions of the week on the storied Scottish links, the 34-year-old Nordqvist – a two-time major champion from Sweden – shot her lowest round in one of women’s golf’s five elite events with a bogey-free, 7-under 65 at Carnoustie, Scotland.
Koerstz Madsen, a 26-year-old Dane with just one top-10 finish in a major, joined Nordqvist on 9 under overall by rolling in a 15-foot eagle putt at No. 12 and parring her way home down Carnoustie’s tough closing stretch to shoot 68.
They were a stroke ahead of Lizette Salas of the United States, whose up-and-down at the last completed a round of 70 that didn’t include a bogey from the fifth hole.
Yealimi Noh wasn’t so lucky. The 20-year-old American held at least a share of the lead for much of a third round that lived up to the “Moving Day” tag, only to drop shots on her final three holes and finish at 6 under with a 71.
That left Noh tied for eighth place with a star-studded group containing Korda (70), the recently crowned Olympic champion and new superstar of women’s golf, and two players who have won the Women’s Open in the last five years – 2018 champion Georgia Hall (73) and 2016 winner Ariya Jutanugarn (68).
The top 14 were separated by just three shots going into the final round. Thompson, whose only major win was in 2014, was in a four-way tie for fourth place after a 70.
Perhaps the most unlikely player alongside Thompson on 7 under was Louise Duncan, a 21-year-old Scottish amateur who goes to Stirling University in her home country.
She gave a fist pump after making birdie at No. 8 for a 68 to stay in contention for much more than the Smyth Salver that is awarded to the leading amateur.
“The crowd was absolutely loving it and so was I,” Duncan said, “and to hole that putt tops it off as well.”
Duncan won’t be the only player counting on local support on Sunday.
Nordqvist, who won the LPGA Championship in 2009 and the Evian Championship in 2017 for her two majors, said her husband was from a place 20 minutes away from Carnoustie and that many of his friends and family had been at the course.
“I am definitely feeling their support,” she said.
She is also mindful of the 2011 Women’s Open at Carnoustie, when she tied for seventh for her joint-best finish at the tournament, and she climbed 22 places Saturday.
A 25-foot putt for birdie at No. 8 was her highlight, along with the 230-yard approach at the 17th that set up her seventh and final birdie of the round.
At one stage, Nordqvist was in a five-way tie for the lead at 7 under, with Hall – who shared the overnight lead – Noh, Madelene Sagstrom and 2019 champion Hinako Shibuno.
Noh was the last one of those players to fall away, although Sagstrom – another Swede – bounced back from a double-bogey 6 at No. 9 with two straight birdies and then seven pars to finish for a 69. She was with Thompson, Duncan and Sanna Nuutinen (68) on 7 under.
Tapio Pulkkanen will take a two-stroke lead into the final round of the Czech Masters after a 6-under 66 at Vysoky Ujezd.
Three shots off the lead after the second round, the 31-year-old Finn did not drop a shot in the third round until the par-4 17th. He bounced back with his seventh birdie on No. 18 at the Albatross Golf Resort near Prague for a 13-under 203 total.
It’s the first lead for Pulkkanen after the third round in his career.
“It was a solid round – better than the first two,” Pulkkanen said. “A lot of good putts and a lot of good iron shots. Off the tee I was pretty straight today as well, so I’m happy with that.”
Seeking his first European Tour title, Pulkkanen looked confident ahead of the final round.
“I feel like I can play both aggressive and defensive here this week. I feel like I can win here.”
Former British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden dropped his first shot at the Czech Masters on No. 6 to finish the round at 3-under 69 and share second with two Americans, Johannes Veerman (68) and Sean Crocker (70) at 11 under.
“I’m pleased with the way I managed my way around the golf course,” Stenson said. “I’m still battling some things in the swing – I don’t know how visible it is on the outside but I’m certainly feeling it. It’s hard to turn around two or three bad seasons in one week. But I’m positive with the progress.”
American Paul Peterson (68), who won the Czech Masters in 2016, was another stroke back in fifth.
Overnight leader Sebastian Söderberg of Sweden dropped four shots on the front nine with a double bogey and two bogeys. He had another bogey on the back nine to finish on 73, tied for sixth on 9 under with another Swede, Philip Eriksson (68), Englishman Sam Horsfield (67) and Poland’s Adrian Meronk (72).
Play was delayed by more than two hours due to fog on Saturday morning.