Saturday's golf: Friends, playing partners Hodges, Barjon share AmEx lead

By John Nicholson
Associated Press

La Quinta, Calif. — Lee Hodges and Paul Barjon took advantage of a late tee time Saturday to miss the worst of a windy day and share the third-round lead in The American Express.

“It was tough early and it kind of died on our back nine a little bit,” Hodges said. “It was off and on, but it was a good wind. The easy holes were playing a little easier, but the hard holes were hard. So you just had to make a couple pars and then get to those downwind holes.”

Nelly Korda watches her tee shot on the second hole.

Playing together in the final group off the 10th tee on PGA West’s Stadium Course, the PGA Tour rookies and close friends each birdied the par-5 fifth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth and closed with a par.

“We’re just best buddies and we have a great time out there,” Hodges said. “We keep it really light and it’s easy to compete when your friends are playing well.”

Hodges, a 26-year-old former Alabama golfer, shot an 8-under 64. Barjon, the 29-year-old Frenchman who played at Texas Christian, had a 65.

“We just kind of feed off each other, so it’s been fun,” Barjon said.

Hodges opened Thursday with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club for a share of the first-round lead with defending FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, then shot a 72 on Friday on PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course.

Hodges and Barjon, both making their 14th PGA Tour start, were at 18-under 198.

Tom Hoge was a stroke back after a 68 at La Quinta, playing in the second group off the first tee in the strongest wind of the day.

“Generally, I would say it’s better to be here,” Hoge said about tree-lined La Quinta. “It’s a little more protected from the trees and a little bit shorter golf course, so you could play a little more conservatively off the tee, get the ball in play and go from there.”

Hoge opened with his lone bogey of the week. He holed out from a greenside bunker on the par-4 fourth for the first of three straight birdies, added a birdie on the par-5 11th and parred the last seven.

Seamus Power, also at La Quinta, was 16 under after a 66. The Irishman played a five-hole stretch on the front nine in 6 under, capping the run with an eagle on the par-5 sixth.

“It was an interesting round,” said Power, who won his first tour title at the Barbasol Championship last year in Kentucky. “It was very fun on the front there. It was one of those rounds just kind of made everything I looked at for an hour and a half.”

Hudson Swafford, the 2017 champion, was at 15 under with Harry Higgs and Lanto Griffin.

Swafford birdied four of his last five holes on the Stadium Course, the site of the final round.

“I was really patient,” Swafford said. “I gave myself a lot of looks even though it played really tough early. I mean the wind, I’m not going to say it’s laid down, but it was blowing early pretty good.”

Griffin had a 69 at La Quinta. He’s making his first start of the year after injuring his back carrying his dog and withdrawing from the Sony Open last week in Hawaii.

“It’s feeling a lot better than I thought it would and I’m playing a lot better than I thought I would,” Griffin said. “So, it’s been a really fun week.”

Higgs shot a 67 on the Stadium layout in the first group off the first tee.

Cantlay, a stroke ahead entering the day, had an even-par 72 on Stadium Course to drop four strokes back.

Trying to win for the third time in four starts, the former UCLA player had four birdies and four bogeys. Last year in the desert, he closed with a Stadium-record 61 to finish a shot behind winner Si Woo Kim.

Top-ranked Jon Rahm shot a 67 on the Stadium Course to get to 13 under. The 2018 winner finished with a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th.

Defending champion Kim was 11 under after a 69 on the Stadium Course.

Tournament host Phil Mickelson tied for 150th in the 156-man field, shooting 78-73-72 and failing to advance to the final round.

LPGA

Nelly Korda is just ahead of a stacked field going into final round of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions – the LPGA’s 2022 kickoff event. Four women who have won majors are among the top five players.

Korda, the world’s No. 1 and five-time winner in 2021 (including an Olympic gold medal), limited her mistakes at Orlando, Florida, for a 3-under 69 with four birdies and a bogey, and is 13-under 203 overall. Korda, 23, won the 2021 Gainbridge LPGA on the same course, Lake Nona Golf and Country Club.

Danielle Kang, the runner-up at this tournament a year ago, and Mexico’s Gaby Lopez, the 2020 TOC champion, each went bogey-free in matching Korda’s 69, and will begin the final round one shot back. Canada’s Brooke Henderson and Japan’s Yuka Saso matched the day’s low score of 68 and will begin Sunday two and three strokes behind Korda, respectively.

Kang, Henderson and Saso all have won major championships.

Korda is seeking her eighth career LPGA title. The more she gets in the hunt, the more poised she appears to be. On Saturday, she played alongside a former No. 1 player, Annika Sorenstam, who won 72 times on the LPGA and leads the celebrity field.

“I don’t think anyone is ever really comfortable sleeping on a lead in a sense, but I’m just going to see how I can grow from this opportunity, try to take my best golf into tomorrow, and see how it goes,” Korda said.

Kang held the lead briefly on the back nine and has made only one bogey in three rounds. A Californian who never played very well in the cold, she would rise early at home in Las Vegas in the offseason and make herself practice when it was cold and windy. She experimented with clothing layers that wouldn’t inhibit her swing.

“There is still a lot of progress to be made,” said Kang, 29, who had a rare winless season a year ago. (This TOC field is comprises 29 winners of events in the last three LPGA seasons). “I made a couple swings out there where I just froze up. My body doesn’t react that well in the cold.”

Kang had back-to-back birdies starting at the par-3 13th. At 14, with the tee at the short par-4 pushed up to 251 yards, she drove the green and narrowly missed her eagle putt from 20 feet.

“I gave myself a lot of par opportunities today,” she said. “I didn’t really give myself a lot of birdie opportunities, but capitalized on a couple I did have, which I was proud of myself. I think my biggest thing I’m proud of is that I’m just staying in the moment, staying in what I need to do. I can’t rally control what other people do.”

Lopez, 28, has been impressive all week. She had made only two birdies by the time she reached the tee at the 398-yard closing hole on Saturday, staying patient, and even with a good drive, still had 162 yards left directly into the wind. She hit one of her best shots of the day, a solid 5-iron to 12 feet, and buried the putt, finishing with birdie for a second consecutive day.

Lopez said she has played with “bravery” this week.

“Being able to step up with Gaby without her demons, and with her doubts, and the moments of uncertainty,” Lopez said. ”Being able to step up and say, ‘Hey, I’m here for a reason. I worked my whole life for this.’ … Whatever happens tomorrow, it’s going to be fine. I’m pretty sure we’re going to play some solid golf this year.”

Sorenstam, who won last summer’s U.S. Women’s Senior Open and is a member at Lake Nona, leads the celebrity division, which uses a Modified Stableford scoring system.

The race is a tight one. She has 104 points, two points better than former MLB pitcher Derek Lowe, four ahead of former tennis player Mardy Fish and five ahead of military veteran Chad Pfeifer. The winner among the celebrities will earn $100,000. The LPGA champion will earn $225,000.

Champions

Miguel Angel Jimenez is off to another great start on the PGA Tour Champions in Ka’upulehu-Kone, Hawaii.

Jimenez, the cigar-smoking, free-spirited Spaniard, birdied the par-4 18th hole in regulation for a 6-under 66 and then beat Steven Alker on the second playoff hole to win the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai for the third time.

“It’s a nice way to start a season. It’s nice to be here, winning again in Hualalai,” Jimenez said. “The golf course, I like it very much. The golf course is set up in beautiful condition this year. They make it very good here at Hualalai.”

Jimenez won two years ago in a playoff, along with winning outright in 2015. The season opener is for winners from the last two years and senior major champions from the last five years, along with a few sponsor exemptions.

Alker had no PGA Tour Champions status late last year under getting it through a qualifier and then finishing in the top 10 each week to keep playing, eventually winning. He also closed with a 66 to join Jimenez at 17-under 199.

They finished one shot ahead of Vijay Singh and Stephen Ames, who each birdied the final hole for a 68.

Ernie Els, who had the lead going into the final day. couldn’t keep up and had to settle for a 70. He finished three shots behind.

Alker had a chance to win with a birdie at the 18th on the first extra hole, narrowly missing the cut. Playing the 18th again in the playoff, his approach came off the green and into a bunker, and he failed to save par.

“It was fun to get in position and have a chance,” Alker said.

David Duval made his debut on the 50-and-older circuit and closed with a 72 to tie for 34th.

Jimenez joined Bernhard Langer as the only three-time winner of the tournament. It was his 11th career victory on the PGA Tour Champions, four of them in playoffs.

Europe

Scott Jamieson stayed on course for a wire-to-wire win at the Abu Dhabi Championship by making a 6-foot birdie putt at the last hole to retain his one-stroke lead at the end of the third round at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

The Scottish player, ranked No. 336 and seeking his first title since 2012, shot 4-under 68 and was on 11 under overall in the first European tour event of 2022 after breaking free of a tie for the lead with Shane Lowry and Thomas Pieters (both 67s).

Jamieson has led by one stroke after all three rounds.

“It would be massive, a game-changer, to win a tournament of this stature,” Jamieson said of the Rolex Series event that has grown to become one of the most prestigious on tour. “There’s definitely been some great champions here, (but there’s) an awful long way to go.”

That’s because there are a few European Ryder Cup players in sight of the Scot.

Lowry was bogey-free around Yas Links as he looks to win in Abu Dhabi for the second time, after his 2019 victory that was topped later that year by winning the British Open. The strong winds this week have been reminiscent of those at British Opens and Lowry has looked at home in the conditions.

The nearest he came to dropping a shot was on No. 18 when a mix-up with his caddie saw Lowry take aim in the wrong direction, his ball nearly going into the water down the left side of the hole.

“We were aiming at the HSBC sign but his one was 30 yards right of the one I was looking at,” Lowry said, with a smile. “Yeah, new course – I thought I hit a perfect shot. I couldn’t believe it came down where it did.

“It was a bad mistake to make because we shouldn’t be doing it in that situation. I got very lucky … and made a good two-putt afterward. Could have been a different story.”

Pieters also made five birdies and no bogeys to leave himself with a great chance of a sixth European tour title.

Viktor Hovland, the No. 7-ranked Norwegian seeking his third title in his last four events, missed a par putt from inside 2 feet at the 18th hole to shoot 70 and drop into a share of fourth place with Shubhankar Sharma (67).

The scoring was much lower than on Friday, when gusts of up to 40 mph (64 kph) off the coastline of the Persian Gulf caused havoc.

Rory McIlroy made the cut on the number and shot 67 – his best score of the week by five strokes – to climb to 2 under and a tie for 28th.