Merritt aces to share PGA lead with Niemann in Detroit

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Troy Merritt celebrates his hole-in-one at the par-3 11th hole in Saturday's third round of the US PGA Rocket Mortgage Classic
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Troy Merritt aced the par-3 11th hole on his way to seizing a share of the lead with Chile's Joaquin Niemann after Saturday's third round of the Rocket Mortgage Classic.

The 35-year-old American one-hopped a 5-iron shot into the cup from 219 yards for his first hole-in-one at a US PGA Tour event, highlighting a five-under par 67 that put him on 14-under 202 for 54 holes at Detroit Golf Club.

"It was just nice to see it go in," Merritt said.

Niemann, who hasn't made a bogey in the first three rounds, fired a 68 to share to top spot. Australian Cam Davis and American Hank Lebioda were next on 203 and American Brandon Hagy was on 204.

"The leaders, they're all pretty close," Niemann said. "So I know I need to go low tomorrow to give myself a chance to win."

England's Tom Lewis, a two-time winner on the European Tour seeking his first US PGA title, had shared the lead with Niemann after 36 holes but shot 71 to share sixth in a pack of six players on 205.

"There's going to be quite a few birdies tomorrow and we've got to make them to keep pace," Merritt said. "The mindset will be find that fairway first, give ourselves as many looks as we can.

"I'm reading the greens pretty well, the feel's pretty good, so if we can hole a few tomorrow, I think we'll have a chance."

World number 129 Merritt, chasing his third US PGA title after winning the 2015 National and 2018 Barbasol Championship, closed with six pars while Niemann, who became the PGA's first Chilean winner at the 2019 Greenbrier, made a late surge.

Niemann, ranked 30th, is contending to be the first player to go 72 holes without a bogey in a PGA event since J.T. Poston did it in winning at Greensboro in 2019.

"I always try to not make bogeys, but this week it's working," Niemann said. "I haven't made too many mistakes. When I have put my position in tough spots, I've been doing some good up-and-downs, which is always nice."

Merritt sank a 20-foot birdie putt at the opening hole, a 10-foot birdie putt at the third and dropped his approach inches from the cup for a tap-in birdie at the par-3 fifth.

He put his approach inside four feet to set up another birdie at the par-5 seventh and reach 13-under to lead by two at the turn.

After the ace boosted his lead to three strokes, Merritt found the right rough on the way to bogey at 12 then saved par at 14 after chipping from deep rough to inches from the hole.

"I had time to recover," Merritt said. "I just hit a poor shot on 12."

- Playing for six -

Niemann, twice a runner-up in January in Hawaii, opened with a birdie and added another at the par-5 seventh after driving into the sixth fairway.

He pulled within a stroke of Merritt's lead with a seven-foot birdie putt at 13 then salvaged par at the par-5 14th after finding the rough twice and a greenside bunker.

"I make a huge save on 14," Niemann said. "I thought I was going to make a six there. I was playing for a six and I made a great bunker shot and left myself an easy putt for par."

Niemann then two-putted for birdie at 17, tapping in to match Merritt for the lead.

Merritt went left off the 18th tee and hit a tree, bouncing into short rough to help him save par from just inside six feet.

Niemann followed with his own tense par putt at 18 from just inside five feet to match Merritt for the lead.

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