PALM BEACH GARDENS – Rookie Wyndham Clark used a hot start and a nervy final 10 holes to take a one-shot lead and put himself into position for his first PGA Tour victory on Saturday after the third round of play at the Honda Classic.
Second-round co-leader Keith Mitchell, 56-year old Vijay Singh of Fiji, and Kyoung-Hoon Lee of South Africa are a shot behind with 18 holes to play at the PGA National Resort’s Champion course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
A total of 17 players are within four shots of Clark’s lead heading into Sunday’s final round.
Clark forged a 3-under-par 67 in the third round to finish 54 holes at 7-under 203. He had five birdies in his first seven holes, before a bogey on No. 9. Clark then played the back-nine, including the treacherous “Bear Trap” on holes 15-17, with a birdie and two bogeys> He closed by missing a 9-foot putt for birdie on 18.
“I didn’t know I was in the lead, but I knew I was playing well and I just tried to keep that going,” Clark told NBC Sports after the round. “I’ve been in final groups before as a junior, and in college, so this is similar – just more pressure and more people watching. I like big crowds, so I should be fine.”
Mitchell, the second-round co-leader, shot a 70 with two birdies and two bogeys on his card, while Singh’s third-round-best 65 featured six birdies (including four in a six-hole stretch on the front nine) and a bogey. Lee carded a 68 with four birdies and a pair of bogeys.
Clark, who was raised in Colorado and resides in Las Vegas, competed collegiately at Oregon and was Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2017 for a Ducks team that beat Texas to win the NCAA championship. He was also named GolfWeek Player of the Year, was a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award and was a semifinalist for the Division I Jack Nicklaus National Player of the Year award that season.
Clark earned his PGA Tour card via the Web.com Tour last year, where he had four top-10 finishes in 24 starts and finished 16th on the regular-season money list. In his first 10 starts this season, Clark’s best result was a tie for 10th at last week’s Puerto Rico Open, a result that earned him a spot in the field this week at PGA National.
“Having that cushion (from the front nine) makes you feel a little bit relaxed playing to the tough holes on the back side,” Clark said. “I made some errant shots and swings, but I knew if I just got it in play and got it on the green, I was going to have a chance to make par.”
Singh is in the hunt for his 35th PGA Tour title, and a victory would make him the oldest winner in PGA Tour history. Sam Snead currently has the record for oldest winner, at 52 years, 10 months, 8 days when he won the 1965 Greater Greensboro Open.
“I’m physically quite capable of doing it,” Singh said about his chances for a win. “Mentally, I’m going to go out there and see how my mind works. If I just don’t let anything interfere, I think I can do it.”
It’s been 11 years since Singh’s last PGA Tour win, the 2008 Deutsche Bank Championship, but he does have recent success on PGA Tour Champions, with four career victories, including three in 2018.
“Playing the Champions Tour, you’ve got to make a lot of birdies,” Singh said. “It’s all about making a lot of putts. That brings, I guess, aggression out of you.”
Rickie Fowler’s 66 in the third round moved him into solo possession of fifth place at 5 under.
Michael Thompson (66), first-round leader Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela (69), Adam Schenk (68), Robert Castro (69) Ryan Armour (70) and two-time defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka (70) are tied for sixth, three shots off the lead.
“I’ve made one bad swing every day, and it’s definitely penalized me,” Koepka said. “I’ve had a double every day. So if I can clean that up and play mistake-free tomorrow and hit these putts a little bit harder, I think everything could fall my way.”
Six players – including rookie Kramer Hickok (66), Matt Jones of Australia (69) and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia of Spain (70) – finished the third round tied for 12th place at 3 under.
Schenk was accessed a two-shot penalty prior to the round for his caddie standing behind him once he took a stance in the bunker on the par-3 17th during Friday’s second round. Schenk played the shot without backing away, causing the violation and dropped from two strokes off the 36-hole lead to four back.
“You know, I broke the rule, so the intention was never to cheat, obviously,” Schenk said. “I had probably 15 minutes more to warm up after (I was told about the penalty) and played nicely today under the circumstances. Now you just try and forget about the whole thing, really, but what’s done is done.”
Second-round co-leader Sungjae Im of South Korea ballooned to a 77 on Saturday and dropped 50 spots into a tie for 51st.
–Field Level Media