PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Daniel Berger wasn’t perfect. He just kept avoiding big trouble, which almost no one 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-stroke lead and finished with a five-stroke advantage, after his round of 1-under 69 moved him 18 holes away from winning a tournament 15 minutes away from home. him.
“I played some good golf, but the challenge is still ahead, 18 more holes,” Berger said. “I have to stay focused to play another big trick tomorrow and if I can do that I will hold the trophy at the end of the day.”
Shane Lowry (67), Chris Kirk (71), Sepp Straka (69) and first-round leader Kurt Kitayama (71) tied for second at 6 under.
Only 13 of the 73 players who made the cut shot under par on Saturday. No one fell low, and unless Berger starts making a lot of mistakes, someone will have to do it on Sunday to deny him a fifth PGA Tour victory.
Lowry had the fastest lap of the day – and it was just 3 under.
“I drove the ball inbounds and putt well,” Lowry said. “My putting was pretty average at the start of the week. I found something over the week.
He must find something more.
Or more specifically, let’s hope Berger misplaces something.
“Obviously you want to go out and catch him tomorrow, but I don’t think you can go catch anybody on this golf course,” Lowry said. “You just need to do your thing and get the highest score you can and hopefully it’ll be good enough.”
Andrew Kozan, Curtis Thompson, Billy Horschel and Kevin Streelman all fired 68 shots on Saturday, although in all four cases that just meant being tied for the week and away from Berger.
“It was much more difficult today,” Kitayama said.
There were hints that Berger could return to the pack, starting on his first tee shot of the day when he fired the ball down the rough left. The rough left was also waiting for him on No. 4, as was a greenside bunker on No. 7.
He saved par each time, and again on the No. 10, when he threw two shots from 65 feet to keep the card flawless. The only mistake came on the last, his only bogey of the day.
Kirk was closest for a while, just three strokes back as he headed for the par-4 14th. But a trip into the trees led to a double bogey, and Berger backed up his putt before rolling coolly into a 5-footer to save par again.
Armed with a five-shot lead, Berger went on the par-3 15th, the start of the three-hole stretch known as the “Bear Trap” that generally frowns on aggression. He went to the flag, kept the ball downwind and watched it settle 7 feet from the hole.
The birdie putt was cut down the center, taking it 12 under – six shots ahead of the nearest challengers at the time.
“I have to play golf tomorrow to have a chance of winning,” Berger insisted.
Kozan was perhaps the biggest achievement of the day. He waited 12 hours to play four moves, then played another 68 moves over the next three hours or so.
Kozan stopped play on the par-5 of the 18th fairway on Friday night due to darkness, a wise move since he needed par to make the cut. After five hours of sleep, he was on the course at 5:40 a.m. Saturday to warm up and resumed play at 6:47 a.m. He used a few short irons to get to the green about 260 yards out, then put two putts for the par that allowed him to make his first cut on the PGA Tour.
It was at 6:59. At 7:35 a.m. he teeed off in a solo group to start the third round and at 10:51 a.m. he rolled in a 4-footer for birdie to complete a 2-under 68 third round.
“Nothing to lose,” Kozan said.
And a lot to win.
Kozan’s biggest check as a professional so far is $29,333 for finishing second last year at the Korn Ferry Tour qualifying school. It could surpass this Sunday; whoever finishes alone in 43rd or better at Honda is guaranteed at least $30,000, and Kozan was tied for 19th.
DIVOTS: Winner Honda has held at least a share of the lead after 54 holes in 10 of the previous 15 events at PGA National. … Brooks Koepka shot a 1 of 71, dropping to 1 on the week. … Aaron Rai’s second shot on the par-3 15th was sand, rolled over the green and nearly went into the water. It might have been better if that was the case. Rai’s ball landed on the rocky ledge above the water, so he returned to the bunker to replay the sand shot. It took two more swings to escape the sand, and he made an 8-footer for a triple bogey.
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