Despite earning nearly $US3 million, a winless 2017 felt like a lost year for Jason Day. But he got back in the win column this season at Torrey Pines, and looks to take 2018 to another level on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Championship where he holds a two-stroke lead after shooting a second straight four-under 67 on Saturday at Quail Hollow.
Day’s front nine was a bit quiet, with just one bogey and one birdie for an even-par 35, but he turned it on the back nine, starting with a birdie at the par-5 10th. That led to a stretch of three birdies on his next five holes and he finished with three straight pars to cap off a second straight 67 and third straight sub-70 round.
“Today was a bit of a struggle through eight holes,” said Day. “Usually you try and catch one up on seven and eight, didn’t quite get the ball in position through those first eight holes. But then a nice shot into the ninth hole there for a tap-in birdie and a good drive down 10 kind of really getting things in the right direction.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be like this forever. I knew things were going to turn around. I just had to keep focused and when I was out of position save myself for par, birdies will come, just be patient.”
Day heads into the final round with the seventh 54-hole lead of his career on the US PGA Tour, and he’s converted on five of his first six. It’s a position he feels very comfortable with.
“If I can hit a lot more greens and just get the proximity closer, with my putting I feel like I can run – not run away with it but have a really deep score in there somewhere. Tomorrow is going to be challenging. There’s a lot of good players that are trying to win for the first time this season or the second time this season, and I think they’re able to get out there with a little bit less pressure, post a score.
“So I’ve got all the pressure on my shoulders, but I’d much rather be in this position than chasing.”
If Day closes it out, it’ll make him the fourth multiple winner on tour this season, and it would give him his 12th career victory on the US PGA Tour.
Alone in second is Nick Watney, who shot a five-under 66 to get to eight-under 205 for the tournament. The five-time tour winner has just one top-25 finish this season, coming a few weeks ago at the Valero Texas Open. He’ll play in the final group on Sunday alongside Day, and a win would be his first since the 2012 Barclays at Bethpage Black.
Three back at seven-under 206 is Peter Uihlein, who went out Saturday morning and flirted with the course record, carding a nine-under 62, one shot shy of Rory McIlroy’s 61 in the third round of the 2015 Wells Fargo. After making five straight birdies to close out a front-nine 30, Uihlein eagled the par-5 10th and added two more birdies at the 14th and 15th holes to shoot his career low. The remarkable round comes after he posted back-to-back 72s on Thursday and Friday.
“The course set up a little easier than it did the first two days, for sure,” said Uihlein. “The greens seemed to be a bit softer, I don’t know if that was coming from the overcast or they just didn’t run the sub-air. The first two days definitely felt more like a US Open and today it was definitely more benign and you were able to get after it.”
A victory on Sunday would be Uihlein’s first on the PGA Tour and it would come after a streak of three missed cuts at the Houston Open, Valero Texas Open and Zurich Classic.
Bryson DeChambeau also is at seven under thanks to a five-under 66 that featured six birdies and just one bogey. Since he opened with a four-over 75 on Thursday, he’s played his next 36 holes in 11 under.
“It’s just been a little bit of the driver getting better today,” said DeChambeau. “And my irons have gotten substantially better over the course of time, and then I’ve been making a lot of putts, so that’s nice.”
The 2017 John Deere Classic winner can notch his second win on tour if he’s able to catch Day. And if he continues to putt well (2nd in the field in strokes-gained/putting), he knows he’s got a chance.
PGA Tour rookie Aaron Wise was cruising along on Saturday at three under on his round and nine under for the tournament through 15 holes. He had some trouble, though, with the Green Mile, as the closing three holes are called, starting with a bogey at the par-4 16th and a wayward approach shot into the par-4 18th that nearly led to disaster. But Wise came up clutch, chipping in for bogey from off the back of the green to remain in contention at seven under along with Uihlein, DeChambeau and England’s Paul Casey.
“It depends on what the other guys do obviously. Hopefully they’re within reach. You’re just going to have to go after it tomorrow and hit a lot of greens and make some putts and see where you are coming around 15 and if you have to go for it, try to make eagle and just go for it. And then the Green Mile’s not easy, so just strap on, that’s for sure.”
Phil Mickelson gave Uihlein a run for round of the day, firing a seven-under 64 that has him at five-under 208. The five-time Major champion has never won at Quail Hollow, but did have a runner-up finish in 2010, finishing four strokes back of two-time winner McIlroy, who shot a five-under 66 on Saturday and is at three-under 210.
Tiger Woods shot a three-under 68 and finds himself nine shots back at one-under 212.