Rahm soars into third-round lead at Players

Jon Rahm’s season of discontent and self-examination has put him into position to win The Players Championship, one of the biggest golf tournaments the world. But the 24-year-old Spaniard still has plenty of work to do — on himself and on the golf course over the final 18 holes.
Rahm sped his way up the leaderboard with a round-best 64 on Saturday to forge a one-shot lead over Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and England’s Tommy Fleetwood after the third round of play at the famed TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Rahm’s round Saturday featured seven birdies, one eagle (on the par 5 11th) and one bogey and allowed him finish 54 holes at 15-under-par 201 and to jump nine spots and sleep on the lead with 18 holes to play. Rahm hit nine of 14 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation and had a great day on the greens, with no misses on putts within 10 feet.
McIlroy and Fleetwood each posted up-and-down rounds of 70 on Saturday, with McIlroy missing a 13-foot birdie putt on the par 4 closing hole and hitting just four fairways in the round.
Rahm is in search of his third PGA Tour win and his seventh victory worldwide, most recently the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December.
“It feels great — I knew I could post a number,” said Rahm, who could become the second Spanish winner of the PGA Tour flagship event after Sergio Garcia in 2008. “After the sixth hole (on Friday) I’ve had by iron game really dialed in.
“I felt like I was really hitting the ball well today. I knew I had to put the ball in the fairway and give myself chances, little did I know I was going to stiff three or four shots in a row to give myself short birdie putts and finish the way I did.”
After playing in near-perfect and warm conditions for the first two days of the tournament, the weather was a factor on Saturday, with temperatures dropping 20 degrees into the 60s and the wind whipping from the north.
Eleven players are at least 10 strokes under par, tying The Players Championship record after 54 holes. It’s the first time in the history of this event that players from Europe finished in the top three spots on the leaderboard after 54 holes.
Jason Day of Australia was alone in fourth at 12 under after a third-round 68. Abraham Ancer of Mexico (who shot a 70 on Saturday) stands in fifth, four shots off Rahm’s lead.
Day’s round on Saturday was his seventh straight under par at The Players and his performance in this event follows his withdrawal last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a back injury. Day won here in 2016.
Six Americans — Ollie Schniederjans and Brandt Snedeker, each of whom shot 65s — Keegan Bradley (68), Dustin Johnson (69), Brian Harman (71) and Jim Furyk (71) are in a logjam tied for sixth five shots off the pace.
McIlroy and Fleetwood started the third round at 12 under and three shots clear of Furyk, Ian Poulter of England, Harman, and Ancer. Rahm was five shots back.
Fleetwood started the day with a thud, double-bogeying the first hole, and was three over after seven holes. He turned around his day with a birdie on the par-3 eighth and added four more birdies on the back nine, including a near-kick-in three-foot putt on the treacherous par-3 island 17th.
Fleetwood’s spot in a tie for second matches his best ever position on the PGA Tour after 54 holes.
“I was really patient and strong mentally today,” Fleetwood said. “My start was not good at all, and I didn’t have the rhythm I had he first two days. I turned up today and was hitting it nowhere near as good. It was just a grind. The wide shots were in there, and to get it round and under par around here is always a good score, no matter how you play.”
McIlroy’s third round also began poorly, with bogey on the first two holes, but he bounced back with birdies on the third, seventh and eighth holes and shared the lead with Rahm, who finished about an hour in advance of the final pairing, after another birdie on the 11th.
McIlroy has posted Top-10 finishes in five of six starts this season, with a runner up at the WGC-Mexico Championship as his top result.
“In a good position, not the best position I could be in, but I after the start today to play the last 16 holes in 4 under par with no bogeys was a good effort,” McIlroy said. “I showed some character out there, showed some grit. Got a few back, it would have been nice to pick up a couple in the last few holes, but I’m still right there going into tomorrow.”
Defending champion Webb Simpson is tied for 24th at 6 under after his third straight 70, while Tiger Woods finished 54 holes in a tie for 43rd at 3 under after an even-par 72 on Saturday.
Rahm’s score on Saturday matched the low round of the week.
–Field Level Media

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