Saturday's golf: Berger in full control entering final round at Honda Classic

Tim Reynolds
Associated Press

Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. — Daniel Berger wasn’t flawless. He just kept avoiding big problems, which almost nobody has managed to do at PGA National this week.

That’s why he remains the leader of the Honda Classic.

Berger started with a three-shot lead and ended with a five-shot advantage, after his round of 1-under 69 moved him 18 holes away from winning a tournament a 15-minute drive from his home.

Daniel Berger shows his ball after making a birdie putt on the 15th hole during the third round of the Honda Classic.

“I’ve played some great golf, but the challenge is still ahead, 18 more holes,” Berger said. “I’ve got to stay focused on playing another great round tomorrow and if I can do that then I’ll be holding the trophy at the end of the day.”

Shane Lowry (67), Chris Kirk (71), Sepp Straka (69) and first-round leader Kurt Kitayama (71) were tied for second at 6 under.

Only 13 of the 73 players who made the cut shot below par Saturday. Nobody went low, and unless Berger starts making many mistakes, somebody is going to have to on Sunday in order to deny him a fifth PGA Tour victory.

Lowry had the day’s best round — and that was just 3 under.

“I’ve drove the ball in play and I’ve managed to putt pretty good,” Lowry said. “My putting felt pretty average at the start of the week. I found something as the week went on.”

He needs to find something more.

Or more specifically, hope that Berger misplaces something.

“Obviously, you want to go out and catch him tomorrow, but I don’t think you can go and catch anyone on this golf course,” Lowry said. “You just need to do your thing and shoot the best score you can and hopefully it will be somewhere near good enough.”

Andrew Kozan, Curtis Thompson, Billy Horschel and Kevin Streelman all shot 68s on Saturday, though in all four cases, that simply meant just getting to even par for the week and nowhere near Berger.

“It played a lot tougher today,” Kitayama said.

There were hints that Berger might come back to the pack, starting from his first tee shot of the day when he pulled the ball into the left rough. The left rough awaited him on No. 4 as well, as did a greenside bunker on No. 7.

He saved par each time, and again on No. 10, when he two-putted from 65 feet to keep the card flawless. The only mistake came on the last, his lone bogey of the day.

Kirk was the closest for a while, just three shots back as he headed to the par-4 14th. But a trip into the trees led to a double-bogey, and Berger backed off his putt before coolly rolling in a 5-footer to save par yet again.

Armed with a five-shot lead, Berger went for it at the par-3 15th, the start of the three-hole stretch known as the “Bear Trap” that typically frowns on aggression. He went at the flag, kept the ball below the wind and watched it settle 7 feet from the hole.

The birdie putt was center-cut, getting him to 12 under — six shots ahead of the nearest challengers at that moment.

“I have to play great golf tomorrow to have a chance to win,” Berger insisted.

Kozan was perhaps the day’s biggest success story. He waited 12 hours to play four shots, then played 68 more shots in the next three hours or so.

Kozan stopped play on the par-5 18th fairway Friday night because of darkness, a wise move since he needed par to make the cut. After five hours of sleep, he was at the course by 5:40 a.m. Saturday to warm up and resumed play at 6:47. He used a couple short irons to get to the green from about 260 yards out, then two-putted for the par that allowed him to make his first PGA Tour cut.

That was at 6:59. At 7:35, he teed off in a solo group to begin the third round and at 10:51, he rolled in a 4-footer for birdie to end a third round of 2 under 68.

“Nothing to lose,” Kozan said.

And quite a bit to gain.

Kozan’s biggest check as a pro so far is $29,333 for finishing second last year at the Korn Ferry Tour’s qualifying school. He could top that Sunday; anyone finishing alone in 43rd or better at the Honda is assured at least $30,000, and Kozan was tied for 19th.

Champions

Miguel Angel Jimenez overcame errant drives on the final two holes to shoot a 5-under 67 at Tucson, Arizona, and take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Cologuard Classic.

Jimenez shared the first-round lead with Jeff Sluman after a 66 and had a three-shot lead as he headed to the 17th tee. The 58-year-old Spaniard managed to save par after hitting into the water on the par-5 hole, but closed with a bogey after nearly hitting into the water on the par-4 18th. He was 11 under.

Sluman shot 69 to reach 9 under in his bid to win on the senior circuit for the first time since 2014. Jerry Kelly also was two shots back after a 67, with Gene Sauers (68) and Woody Austin (69) at 8 under.

Reigning Charles Schwab Cup champion Bernhard Langer was four shots back after a 67. The 64-year-old broke his own record as oldest winner in PGA Tour Champions history last week at the Chubb Classic with his 43rd career win, two behind Hale Irwin’s record.

Jimenez opened the season with his 11th PGA Tour Champions win at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship in Hawaii and was fifth last week in Florida. He had a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh during his opening round at Tucson National and poured in the second of three straight second-round birdies by making a 40-foot putt on the same hole.

Jimenez made a roughly 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 15th and just missed another on the par-3 16th before running into trouble.

His lead at three, Jimenez pulled his tee shot into the water left of the 17th fairway and had to take a drop from roughly 300 yards away. He carved a fairway wood over a strand of trees into a greenside bunker and got up and down for par.

Jimenez pulled a second straight tee shot on No. 18 and caught a break when a cable stopped his ball from rolling into the water. Unable to take a regular stance, he was forced to play out sideways and hit his third shot from 151 yards, two-putting from 40 feet for a closing bogey.

Sluman got off to a strong start with three birdies his first three holes before a tee shot into the fairway bunker at the par-4 sixth led to a bogey. He had 10 straight pars before two-putting from the fringe on the par-5 17th and just missed a birdie putt on No. 18.

Kelly had three birdies to turn the front nine in 2-under 34 and closed strong, rolling in birdie putts on Nos. 16-17.