RIDGELAND, S.C. – The world’s 320th-ranked player didn’t stumble.
The world No. 1 did.
Chesson Hadley, who had missed the cut in 11 of his last 15 starts on the PGA Tour and fallen to his lowest rank since 2016, outplayed Dustin Johnson as the two walked side by side in the final group on Saturday and remained atop the leaderboard through three days of the Palmetto Championship at Congaree.
The only thing that stopped Hadley, whose lone PGA Tour title came in the 2014 Puerto Rico Open, was a suspension of play due to threatening weather as he stood on the 18th tee.
Play was stopped at 5:55 p.m. ET and then called for the day at 8 p.m. Only four players were still on the course – Hadley, Johnson, Harris English and Tain Lee. Hadley, who led by two after 36 holes, will take a 4-shot lead to the 18th hole when play resumes at 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
After opening with a bogey on the first, Hadley remained patient through a string of 10 consecutive pars and didn’t sweat losing his lead. Then he ripped off four birdies in five holes on the back nine to create separation from the field.
“I was really uncomfortable to start, absolutely. I was nervous, I was anxious and it has been a long time since I’ve been in a position like this,” Hadley said. “I have been in a position like that before, but you just kind of forget. I started to feel better on hole 4. And then I made a really, really nice putt on 6 for par and I was kind of, I kind of felt really good after that.
“So I started to string some nice holes together and was able to make a few birdies there towards the end.”
Hadley is at 14 under through 53 holes. Johnson, on the other hand, never really got going after pulling even with a birdie on the second. The two-time major winner with 24 PGA Tour titles made three bogeys in nine holes to fall back, rallied with consecutive birdies at 15 and 16 but then bogeyed 17 and was six shots back at 8 under through 53 holes.
Harris English, who has battled a bad back since the Players, moved into second place at 10 under with five birdies and one bogey. He has a 10-footer for birdie on the last hole when play resumes.
“Teeing off on 18 those clouds were mighty dark and we were trying to rush to get it in,” English said. “It was going to be close, but we didn’t get it in and then I thought, well, maybe we can finish tonight and can sleep in in the morning and wait for late tee time.
“But it is what it is. I’ll come out and practice putting a little bit and hopefully make the putt and then rest up, get ready for the final round. It’s kind of unfortunate waking up that early to hit one putt, but it is what it is. I’m lucky to be in one of the last groups and looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.”
Unless there is a major hiccup, Hadley will be paired with English in the final round.
“I’ve known Harris for, gosh, probably 15 years now. He’s just kind of a cool customer and he would be somebody really comfortable to play with,” Hadley said. “That was one of the reasons why I was really uncomfortable today playing with D.J.; I’ve only played with him once and he’s the best in the world and I never played with a world No. 1, so that was really cool getting to watch from him and learn from him. But I would love to play with Harris tomorrow.
“He’s a great egg, would love to get a chance to take a walk with him.”
The leader in the clubhouse is Garrick Higgo, whose 68 moved him to 8 under.
Bo Van Pelt (66) and Tyrrell Hatton (67) were at 7 under.
Tain Lee, who Monday qualified for the event, led for much of the day before making three bogeys and a double in five holes on the back nine. He fell to 6 under and has a 16-footer for birdie on the last hole. Despite his late-round stumble, Lee, who paid $450 to enter the Monday qualifier, is in position to earn a hefty check with a strong Sunday.