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JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Jon Rahm treated the third round of the Northern Trust as if it were Sunday. Only this time he couldn’t birdie the last two holes in dramatic fashion as he did in winning the U.S. Open in June.
With Hurricane Henri postponing Sunday’s scheduled final round at Liberty National Golf Club until Monday, Rahm figured it was best not to leave things to chance in case the tournament is shortened to 54 holes.
“My plan was to birdie 17 and 18 and take the lead just in case we didn’t play any more golf. It wouldn’t be the first time at this tournament,” he said, referring to 2011 when a Hurricane forced tournament officials to call the FedEx Cup playoff event after 54 holes.
Rahm took care of the first half of his plan, making a short birdie at 17 to tie clubhouse leader Cameron Smith at 16 under, but failed to convert his 12-foot birdie putt at the last, signing for 4-under 67, and as a result will sleep on a share of the 54-hole lead.
Cameron Smith waves after making birdie on the 17th green during the third round of the Northern Trust, the first event of the FedExCup Playoffs, at Liberty National Golf Club on August 21, 2021 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Rahm was warming up alongside his caddie, Adam Hayes, to play in Saturday’s final group of the first leg of the FedEx Cup when he was notified that the final round had been postponed to Monday.
“Adam and I thought about it, and (agreed) ‘Let’s just play today like there’s no more golf. Let’s try to end it up on top as if it was a Sunday just in case, because you never know, right,’ ” he recalled.
Rahm, who fired an opening-round 63 and followed it up with a second straight bogey-free round, a 67, on Friday, was cruising along – still bogey-free for the tournament – with five birdies in his first 11 holes to vault one stroke ahead of the 28-year-old Aussie Smith, who missed a 12-foot putt at 18 to shoot 59. Smith’s course-record propelled him to a 54-hole total of 16-under 197.
Rahm lost the lead not once but twice on his way to the clubhouse. On the first occasion, he struck a 4-iron from 244 yards at the par-5 13th that landed in the water fronting the green.
“There was no doubt in his mind that it cleared the penalty area,” Rahm said. “That 4-iron was flushed, absolutely flushed. I started walking out there, well, that’s on the green. I saw Adam wasn’t and looked up and it was a little higher than I expected it and seems like the wind might have picked up a little bit. It looked like about this short from covering, so it’s one of those things that happen in golf.”
Rahm made double bogey to drop back to 15 under, rescued a par from a brutal lie in the rough at 14 and swung for the fences at the difficult 15th, launching his tee shot 354 yards to set up a short birdie and regain a share of the lead with Smith, who said he expected he’d be a couple strokes behind by the end of the day.
Rahm tugged his tee shot attempting to drive the 16th green and caught a difficult lie in the left rough. He tried to hit a flop shot but caught a flier that scooted into the water that lines the right side of the green.
“Never in my mind did I think that ball was going to be somewhat of a flyer,” he explained. “That’s why I went as aggressive as I did. Had I thought that was a possibility I would have probably tried to run it up and be a little bit more cautious, but you know, just right or wrong, looking at it, I didn’t believe it was going to happen.”
The bogey dropped him one stroke back, but Rahm bounced back by sticking his approach at 17 to 3 feet and making the birdie that knotted him with Smith at day’s end.
“The whole day was a little weird knowing that tomorrow there would be no golf,” he said.
Smith wasn’t the only player to go low on Saturday. Erik van Rooyen climbed into solo third with a 9-under 62, a score matched by Shane Lowry (T-6) and Corey Conners (T-9) before him.
First-round co-leader Justin Thomas is two back after a 67 and tied for fourth with Tony Finau, who said he planned to bring his putter to his hotel room for some practice on Sunday.
“I need to have a talk with it,” he said. “It needs to wake up.”
Rahm wasn’t sure what his day off would consist of but he’s not bothering to bring his clubs with him.
“God, no. I said it as a joke, I guess I could meet Adam at Chelsea Piers and do Top Golf,” he said. “I feel in my case I could do more wrong than good.”
Added Rahm: “If COVID quarantine has taught us anything, it’s what to do the whole day cooped up in a room.”
Players projected to move into top 70 for BMW
Erik van Rooyen
Harold Varner III
Players projected to move out of top 70
Cameron Smith flirts with 59, settles for course-record and career-low 60 at Northern Trust
Northern Trust: Rory McIlroy decides laying up the way to go on par 5s
Northern Trust: Final round postponed until Monday due to Hurricane Henri