Brendan Steele had the lowest score of his PGA Tour career with a 9-under 61, giving him a two-shot lead and another chance to win the Sony Open.
Steele has reason to still be smarting from last year. He had the tournament all but won until a series of errors over the last three holes caused him to lose in a playoff to Cameron Smith.
And if Saturday was any indication, even a two-shot lead isn’t safe.
Overnight rain at Waialae Country Club, coupled with the tropical wind not even strong enough to make palm trees sway, left the course as vulnerable as it has ever been.
Steele didn’t even have the low score to himself. Kevin Na also had a 61 and was two shots behind, along with Kapalua runner-up Joaquin Niemann. Na had it going so well he thought about a 59 when he stood over a 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th, knowing that would leave him an eagle away from golf’s magic number. On this day, he had to settle for a 61.
Niemann squinted his eyes into the setting sun as his approach on the par-5 bounced up to 10 feet for a birdie-eagle finish and a 63. In two holes, he went from outside the top 10 to the final group on Sunday. Steele was at 18-under 192.
Stewart Cink birdied his final hole for a 65 and was three shots behind, along with Charley Hoffman (64), Peter Malnati (64), Chris Kirk (65) and Russell Henley (65).
Abbotsford, B.C., native Nick Taylor, who ended his second round with a two-stroke lead, hit a 2-under 68 to the end the round in a tie for ninth. Dundas, Ont., native Mackenzie Hughes is in a tie for 23rd at 11-under. Brights Grove, Ont., native Mike Weir also hit a 2-under 68, but he’s in a tie for 47th place.
Starting times have been moved up by two hours Sunday with hopes of finishing ahead of heavy rain in the forecast.
Steele had a two-shot lead with two holes to play a year ago when he missed a 6-foot par putt on the 17th hole, hit a wild hook on his approach to the easy par-5 18th and had to settle for par, and then missed the 10th green with an 80-yard shot in the playoff. It was a final hour when everything went wrong.
On this blissful day, everything went right. And he wasn’t alone.
Keith Mitchell, who had a 62 on Friday, took the lead at one point in the third round and was 8 under through 15 holes on his round when his tee shot landed near a cement wall of a house and cost him a penalty drop. A mediocre finish gave Mitchell a 63, which felt even higher being in the same group as Na.
There were 10 scores of 64 or better. The average score for the third round was 66.7.
Taylor was keeping pace until a pair of bogeys on the back nine. He shot a 68 and was still only four shots back.
Such is the nature of this tournament in this kind of weather. It was wide open on Saturday, and it’s not likely to be any different in the final round.