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Finau, Pendrith tied for Rocket Mortgage lead after third round, primed for Sunday shootout

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Presidents Cup is still more than a month away, but on Saturday afternoon at Detroit Golf Club, Tony Finau and Taylor Pendrith might have been offering a preview.

Time will tell if one or both will play in September at Quail Hollow, but during the third round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, Finau, the highly ranked American looking for back-to-back victories, and Pendrith, the relatively unknown Canadian looking for his first win, went back and forth over 18 holes, the momentum swinging multiple times before they walked off the 18th green tied for the lead at 21 under.

PGA golfers Tony Finau (left) Taylor Pendrith on the 7th tee during the Round 3 of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

“Yeah, that's golf,” Finau said. “It's almost like a match play situation where we kind of flipped the script there on each other in the beginning. I think we both have done a great job up to this point through 54 holes of maintaining our composure and playing good golf. It was nice to have him as a playing partner today and we'll have him again tomorrow.

“It had a nice feel to it, a lot of energy from the crowd and we both played some solid golf and kind of feeding off each other. It was nice to have that type of energy and we'll run it back (on Sunday).”

If what the duo runs back on Sunday is anything like what they produced on Saturday, then it should provide for plenty of theater.

And if anyone else can join the party — say, Cameron Young or Patrick Cantlay, who both threatened at times on Saturday — then all the better.

For now, though, the focus is on Finau and Pendrith. Finau had the better round, shooting 7-under 65 to pull even with Pendrith, who entered the round with a one-shot lead before carding a 6-under 66. While it seems straight forward, it was an adventure getting to the end with the pair neck and neck.

Finau grabbed an early advantage with birdies on two of the first three holes to grab the lead.

“Obviously, this course has shown some low scores, so you've got to just keep making birdies if you want to stay in it,” Pendrith said. “I got off to a decent start today. I missed a short one on 3 — maybe a little nerves — but hung in there.”

He did, indeed, retaking the lead with birdies on Nos. 4, 6 and 8 before a bogey at No. 9 left Pendrith and Finau tied when they made the turn.

That’s when Finau started to make his move, or better still, allow Pendrith to hurt himself. Finau got a birdie on No. 10 followed by a bogey from Pendrith on the 13th gave Finau a two-shot advantage. Through three rounds, Finau has yet to record a bogey, an impressive stretch to say the least.

“No bogeys up to this point on the scorecard in the tournament, which is nice,” Finau admitted. “I think it's a golf course that yields some birdies. You'll have some looks, but to not make any mistakes to this point is nice and I think that's the main reason I've kind of found myself on top of the leaderboard.”

Pendrith didn’t stay down long, snatching the momentum back with three straight birdies at 14, 15 and 16. He parred the 17th while Finau birdied to retake the lead, but on 18, Pendrith drained a 10-foot birdie putt while Finau’s effort from a little more than 6 feet didn’t drop, leaving the duo tied for the lead to close out the round.

“The start of the back nine's pretty tricky,” Pendrith said. “I had a pretty good look on 10. Eleven's playing really hard, I was happy to get out of there with a 3. And 12's a long hole as well, it was a tough pin today. Thirteen, just kind of hit a poor tee ball and maybe got a little bit of a bad break right behind the tree.

“To get three (birdies) in a row after that was a big momentum boost and obviously set myself up nicely for (Sunday) with those three holes, and to get one on the last was great.”

While Finau had to overcome a five-shot deficit in the final round last week to win the 3M Open, he has the luxury of having been in the hunt often throughout his career.

“Nothing really changes no matter how I'm playing,” Finau said. “I’ll probably do a little practice after this, grab a little food, talk to my kids and get some rest. We've got a long morning again just like we did today. They told us we're going to have around the same tee time tomorrow, it's going to be another late one. There's a lot of time in between rounds but I don't mind it.”

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Pendrith, meanwhile, could be thinking about his 54-hole lead in October at the Bermuda Championship before a final round 76 left him in a tie for fifth.

Of course, he’ll be doing his best to block that out, instead focusing on finishing tied for 13th and tied for 11th in his last two events.

“I probably have more pressure just because I've never won before and Tony's a multiple winner and he won last week and he's playing great,” Pendrith said. “I've got a nice opportunity being tied with him going into Sunday, so there's 18 holes of golf left and who knows what will happen.

“I feel like my game's in a good spot, I'm driving it well, I'm hitting my wedges good, it's nice to see some putts go in. We'll see. It will be a fun experience and just looking forward to competing and see what happens.”

MORE: Round 3 recap

MORE: Taylor Moore birdies six of his last seven holes, jumps to seventh place

Young and Cantlay both had their chances on Saturday. Young, who was the runner-up at The Open Championship, shot 7-under 65 but a bogey at No. 16 deflated things late in the round.

“I think I had a chance to shoot 9 or 10 today,” Young said. “But I'm happy that I've kept it somewhat close. And I know those guys are playing some great golf in that group behind me today, so yeah, I mean we'll be chasing all day tomorrow.

“I mean, I'm five back. I have to play a ridiculous round of golf (Sunday) to have any chance.”

Cantlay, the fourth-ranked player in the world and defending FedExCup champion, shot 6-under 66 and got to 16 under for the tournament until the final five holes went the wrong way.

First was a par at the par-5 14th, one of the easiest holes on the course. Cantlay then made bogey at the par-4 16th before another par at No. 17, a par-5 that played as the easiest hole during the third round. A par on No. 18 left him six back.

“I've got to get off to a hot start and keep the pedal down (Sunday),” Cantlay said. “Obviously, this golf course has no defense and there's going to be a ton of birdies out there.”

Stephan Jaeger, who has won six times on the Korn Ferry Tour, is five off the lead at 16-under.

“Within striking distance, which is always fun,” Jaeger said. “So I'm super excited. It's going to be another tough day, but yeah, I'm super excited about it.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @mattcharboneau