Saturday's golf: Rahm closes with birdie to build 2-shot lead in Mexico Open

Associated Press

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico — Jon Rahm birdied the last two par 5s and got some help from a couple of poor chips by Cameron Champ to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mexico Open.

Rahm, whose last victory was the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines last summer, pumped his fist Saturday when he holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the par-5 18th for a 3-under 68.

Jon Rahm, of Spain, waves to spectators on the 18th hole after finishing the third round of the Mexico Open.

He liked how he played tee-to-green. Rahm said he hopes he can see a few more putts drop.

“That one on 18 was the first one outside 10 feet I saw roll in,” Rahm said. “If I can just keep that going and make putts like I did the first two days, I think tomorrow I’ll give myself a really good chance.”

An hour or so before that key birdie on the 18th, Rahm was two shots behind and trying to keep up with Champ, one of the game’s longest hitters whose penetrating ball flight has been ideal for breezy conditions at Vidanta Vallarta,

Champ went over the back of the green on the 15th and stubbed a chip that didn’t reach the green, leading to bogey. He went just over the back on the next hole, and this time clipped it too hard and watched it roll some 10 feet by the hole, leading to another bogey.

From just right of the 18th in two, Champ’s chip came up some 15 feet short and he had to settle for par and a 67.

Kurt Kitayama was tied with Champ after a 66 that also featured some late struggles. He was tied for the lead when he blocked his tee shot on the par-3 17th so far to the right that it ran across a cart path onto a dirt lie under the trees. He did well to make bogey.

Then, the former UNLV player with two European tour wins had 109 yards to the par-5 18th and came up 25 feet short, having to settle for a par.

Rahm was at 13-under 200, two clear of Champ and Kitayama. Another shot behind were Nate Lashley (64), Davis Riley (67) and Patrick Rodgers (66).

Rahm had two eagle chances on the par-5 sixth (20 feet) and the reachable par-4 seventh (15 feet) and settled for birdies. He drove into the water on the tough 10th and made bogey, and Champ pulled ahead with a birdie on the par-5 12th, and then briefly stretched his lead to two shots with a long up-and-down from right of the green on the par-5 14th.

“I feel like I haven’t had everything there. My iron game, you know, I’ve hit a few shaky shots, but I’ve just been able to get around and score,” Champ said. “I love it here. It suits me well. I love the wind. Just excited for it.”

Rahm wasted a birdie chance on No. 12 with a short birdie putt he missed. But on the 14th, he got up-and-down for birdie and then played solidly the rest of the way, closing out his round with a birdie.

It will be the seventh time Rahm has at least a share of the lead going into the final round. He has only converted one of the previous six chances on the PGA Tour, though that doesn’t account for his withdrawal from the Memorial last year when he had a six-shot lead and couldn’t play the final round because of a positive COVID-19 test result.

This figures to be a little tougher with only at two-shot margin, and with five players within three shots of the lead.

Riley, the PGA Tour rookie out of Alabama, lost in a playoff at Innisbrook this year. Rodgers is part of that high school graduating class with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. He was a prolific winner at Stanford, but has yet to win on tour.

Rodgers sounded patient about his approach to playing Vidanta Vallarta, and about winning. He hopes to use some advice he received from Jack Nicklaus, whom he first met in 2014 when Rodgers won he Jack Nicklaus Award as the nation’s top NCAA player, and in recent times at the Bear’s Club in south Florida.

“It was really surprising to hear him say it, but he said he never tried to win a golf tournament,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, he got his fair share. He just tried to do his part and manage what was under his control and trust it would fall his way in the end, so I definitely need to listen to that advice as I take on this challenge tomorrow.”

LPGA

Hannah Green held onto the lead Saturday in the Palos Verdes Championship after a frustrating start on the hilly, windswept course perched above the Pacific Ocean.

Three strokes ahead of Lydia Ko and three other players entering the day, Green overcame bogeys on the first two holes to shoot a 1-over 72 and take a one-shot lead over playing partner Ko into the final round at Palos Verdes, California.

“I got off to a horrendous start, I guess you could say,” Green said. “Just short-sided myself too many times today, so I was actually pretty happy with the 1-over score. Just hit a couple of funny wedge shots and also didn’t read the lies and the wind direction.”

Green closed the back nine bogey-eagle-bogey-birdie and also dropped a stroke on the par-4 12th. The Australian birdied the par-5 16th and parred the last two to finish at 8-under 205 in the first-year event that wraps up the LPGA Tour’s two-week, Los Angeles-area stay.

“It’s hard,” Green said. “You know there are some opportunities on this golf course, but you also know there are a couple tough holes. You just have to stay patient like every other golf course, but it’s hard when Lydia is breathing down your back and there are so many good scores from earlier in the day.”

Ko shot a 70, also overcoming a bad start. The New Zealander had a double bogey on the par-4 second and a bogey on the par-4 fourth.

“I think I made it a little harder than it was,” Ko said. “But considering how I started, to finish under par for the day, upwards and onwards.”

She rallied with five birdies, the last a 30-footer on the 16th. She bogeyed the par-3 17th and saved par with a 7-footer on the par-4 18th.

“It was really windy,” Ko said. “I think there is a huge difference between playing in the morning and the afternoon. Luckily, in the last few holes the wind died down, so made it a little bit easier.”

Ranked third in the world, Ko won the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio in January for her 17th LPGA Tour title.

Green won both of her LPGA Tour titles in 2019, taking the major KPMG Women’s PGA at Hazeltine and the Portland Classic. She was second behind Nasa Hataoka a week ago in the LA Open at Whilshire Country Club.

Lexi Thompson jumped from a tie for 37th to a tie for third at 5 under with a 66, teeing off more than 21/2 hours before Green and Ko in the final group. She’s making her first start since tying for fourth four weeks ago at Mission Hills in the first major championship of the year.

“The first two days were a little bit rough with the ball-striking, but came together today,” Thompson said. “Had a good range session yesterday after my round and figured out a few things. Just felt confident coming into today.”

Allisen Corpuz (68) also was 5 under with Gemma Dryburgh (68), Inbee Park (70), Marina Alex (70), Andrea Lee (70), Annie Park (71), Megan Khang (72) and first-round leader Minjee Lee (72).

Inbee Park chipped in for eagle on 16 for a share of the lead with at 7 under, then bogeyed the final two holes.

Top-ranked Jin Young Ko was 4 under after a 73.

Anna Davis, the Augusta National Women’s Amateur winner, was 2 over after a 72 in her first LPGA Tour start. The 16-year-old is from Spring Valley east of San Diego. She received a sponsor exemption.

“To be able to play in on the weekend in an LPGA Tour event, it’s pretty good experience,” Davis said. “Looking forward to many more for sure.”

Champions

Steve Stricker wanted to stay in bed Saturday morning and some of the players at the Insperity Invitational probably wish he did. Stricker took advantage of calm conditions with a 7-under 65 for a three-way share of the lead in his return to the PGA Tour Champions at The Woodlands, Texas.

Stricker, who lost 25 pounds during a health scare that hospitalized him late last year, is competing for the first time in six months and already has a chance to win.

He was tied with Steve Alker (65) and hard-charging Brandt Jobe (64), who ran off five straight birdies on the back nine and then closed with another birdie when his 5-iron caromed off the wood framing the lake on the par-4 18th at The Woodlands.

They were at 12-under 132. Ken Duke was the next closed to them at 8-under 136.

Stricker had said he is still 10 pounds lighter than when he first started feeling ill, about a month after the U.S. captain led his team to a rout in the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. He also was concerned with endurance having only played cart golf when getting ready.

It just hasn’t looked that way on the golf course.

He said he told wife Nicki, who is caddying for him, that maybe he shouldn’t play next week if this is how he was going to feel – tied for the lead after one round and still feeling lethargic instead of excited about contending. That feeling went away.

“It’s just a progression, I think, and just keep plugging along,” Stricker said. “Feel a little out of sorts when I’m up around the lead. It’s been awhile, but it’s good. It’s what I come out here for, and excited to be in this position.”

For Jobe, it was a mild surprise.

He was playing solidly and then surged into contention with five straight birdies, most of them in the 10-foot range except for one birdie that he chipped in. The surprise came at the end.

Jobe pulled his tee shot into the trees left of the 18th fairway. He wanted to go left and keep it just short of the green. Instead, his 5-iron from 187 yards came out straight at the flag, and Jobe expected it to go in the water.

It hit the wooden frame, bounced out to about 12 feet beyond the hole and he made it for a birdie to share the lead and have a chance at his third PGA Tour Champions win, and his first since the Boeing Classic in 2019.

“I got lucky. I mean, that was a bonus,” Jobe said. “I turned a 6 into a 3, so it’s kind of a nice way to finish.”

Alker had a wild time on the back nine, too. He opened and closed with pars. In between, he had two eagles, three birdies and two birdies. It added to a 31 on the back for a 65 and a chance to get over a playoff loss a week ago in the Dallas area.

Right in the middle of it all is Stricker, whose last competitive round was Oct. 10 until this week.

“I thought he didn’t feel well,” Jobe said with a laugh. “He’s just got his game in a spot where he can turn it on and turn it off and not many people have been able to do that. He’s got his swing and everything just in a spot where he goes out, he puts the work in, he comes back and it’s like he hasn’t missed a beat.”