Saturday's golf: Rookie Sahith Theegala goes after first PGA Tour win in Mississippi

Associated Press

Jackson, Miss. — In his first weekend contention on the PGA Tour, California rookie Sahith Theegala is handling the pressure and his golf just fine in the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Theegala began the back nine Saturday at Country Club of Jackson with three straight birdies, had an eagle chip spin 360 degrees around the cup and finished with a 5-under 67 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

Cameron Tringale had a pair of eagles from long range with his putter and his wedge and matched his career best on the PGA Tour with a 62. He was one shot behind, along with Sam Burns and Denny McCarthy, who each shot 65.

Theegala was at 18-under 198.

Sahith Theegala tracks his drive from the 18th tee box during the third round of the Sanderson Farms Championship on Saturday.

“Definitely a little nerves in there for sure,” Theegala said. “But I think people have said before pressure is a privilege, and I’m trying to use those nerves to my advantage.”

Will Zalatoris, the rookie of the year last season while playing on unlimited sponsor exemptions, was tied for the lead with Theegala and Nick Watney. Zalatoris didn’t make a birdie over the final 12 holes. He shot 72 and fell five shots behind in a tie for 16th.

Watney took a late double bogey on the 16th hole and shot 71, leaving him four back.

Theegala was the consensus NCAA player of the year as a senior at Pepperdine, which was cut short by the pandemic. He had to bide his time between the Korn Ferry Tour and limited PGA Tour starts until making it to the big leagues with ease at the Korn Ferry Tour finals.

His brilliant back nine could have been even better. Theegala drove through the green on the reachable 15th and hit a beautiful pitch that somehow spun all around the cup without dropping, sending him to his knees in disbelief.

“I can’t wait to see the replay of that to see what happened because it literally looked like more than a 360,” Theegala said. “I didn’t have the greatest vantage point, but it was literally going right at the stick, and I’m like, ‘OK, that’s in, with good speed.’ I can’t believe that lip-out.”

Still, he has a chance to earn a two-year exemption and a spot in the Masters and PGA Championship next year if he can hold on.

The list of challengers includes Burns, who already won this year at the Valspar Championship and was in the final conversation to be a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup.

Tringale is still looking for his first win in his 311st start on the PGA Tour. The 62 matched his low from the RSM Classic at Sea Island last November.

He wasn’t about to read too much into this one. He kept the ball in position and the greens are pure. Plus, Tringale holed a 55-foot eagle putt on the par-5 fifth hole, and then holed a bunker shot from 100 feet away on the par-5 14th.

He had four birdie putts from the 12- to 15-foot range.

“This was a combination of hitting a lot of good shots and having good breaks just on the same day,” Tringale said. “I did give myself a lot of chances. I was never out of position. I was putting uphill most of the time. And a (55-footer) and a hole-out, you know, if I three-putt that one and don’t get up-and-down, that’s four shots difference right there.”

But he has a chance in what figures to be a shootout.

Fifteen players were separated by four shots, and nine of those players have yet to win on the PGA Tour.

“You definitely have to get the breaks,” Burns said. “But also it just goes to show you how many talented players there are out here. I think with how bunched up it is there’s probably at least 20-something maybe more guys that could win tomorrow. So really it’s just going out there and trying to put a solid round together.”

LPGA

Inbee Park birdied three of her last five holes to match Jin Young Ko with a 6-under 65 and the leave two top South Koreans in the world tied for the lead in the ShopRite LPGA at Galloway, New Jersey.

Ko, the No. 2 player in the world, played in the morning on the windy Bay Course at Seaview and ran off five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the front nine. She had to settle for only one bogey on the back nine and was the first to post at 11-under 131.

Park is the No. 3 player in the world and putted well all day, her hallmark. She holed a 30-foot birdie on No. 6 and had a 6-foot par save on the next hole.

They were two shots ahead of ANA Inspiration winner Patty Tavatanakit, who birdied the final hole to cap off a bogey-free 65.

Brittany Lincicome (67) and Nanna Koerstz Madsen (68) were three shots behind going into the final round.

Europe

Danny Willett began his third round in sunshine and ended it in torrential rain and high winds, playing some fine golf in between on the Old Course at St. Andrews in a 6-under 66 that left the Englishman with a three-stroke lead at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland.

Willett, who is 14 under par overall, will return to the home of golf on Sunday — the day he turns 34 — seeking an eighth win of his professional career and first in two years, since the BMW PGA Championship in September 2019.

The 2016 Masters champion has a good record on the Old Course, too. He is 73 under par for his career there and finished second at this event in 2010 as well as placing sixth at the British Open at St. Andrews in 2015.

Tyrrell Hatton, the second-round leader and two-time champion of the event, shot 71 and was one of four players tied for second place, along with Shane Lowry (67), Richard Bland (64) and John Murphy (67).