Patrick Rodgers, Sahith Theegala among crowded leaderboard bidding for first PGA Tour title at RSM Classic

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – The fact that Patrick Rodgers still is seeking his first PGA Tour victory after 225 career starts is one of golf’s great mysteries. But that could change on Sunday at the RSM Classic as Rodgers made four straight birdies on the back nine Saturday to shoot 6-under 64 and shares the 54-hole lead with Ben Martin. It’s Rodgers’s first 54-hole lead since the 2017 John Deere Classic.

“This is why I play. I want chances to win golf tournaments,” he said. “That was one of the big things my coach (Jeff Smith) and I talked about during the offseason – to get my nose in there a little more often and this is a really fun opportunity.”

Big things were expected of Rodgers, 30, a member of the ballyhooed “Class of 2011” that includes major winners Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Rodgers equaled the record of Tiger Woods with 11 victories during his college career at Stanford, but the closest he’s come to lifting a trophy on the Tour is losing in a playoff here to Charles Howell III at the 2018 RSM Classic.  That week, Rodgers shot 61-62 at Sea Island’s Seaside Course, the lowest 36-hole weekend score in Tour history. (Three times in all he’s been a runner-up on Tour.)

What has kept the 30-year-old Rodgers from living up to the high expectations placed upon him? Poor iron play has been the biggest culprit. Until improving to 94th in the rankings, he’d never finished better than 117th on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach.

“He extends early, left hip goes up early, spine angle goes back and he doesn’t trap his irons,” Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee said. “He flat out is going to have to learn to hit his irons better to have the sort of success that was anticipated for him.”

This season, Rodgers has made seven straight cuts and finished T-3 at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship three weeks ago. After rounds of 69 at the Plantation Course on Thursday and a tidy 65 at Seaside on Friday, Rodgers got hot on the back nine on Saturday, going on a birdie binge that began at 13 and continued through the 16th hole.

“I’m hoping it plays difficult tomorrow because I feel like that plays to my advantage but I’m looking forward to the fight,” Rodgers said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

RSM Classic: Sunday tee timesLeaderboard

Ben Martin heats up

Ben Martin plays his shot from the 11th tee at Sea Island Resort Seaside Course in St. Simons Island, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Ben Martin played his first 20 holes of the RSM Classic in 1 under. He’s 13 under in his last 34 to catapult him into a share of the 54-hole lead. Martin shot 8-under 64 at Sea Island’s Plantation Course on Friday and continued his torrid pace on Saturday at the Seaside Course, shooting 5-under 65. Only a bogey at the last cooled him off.

Martin, 35, regained full status in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, and has fully recovered from a back injury that stalled his career.

“Coming back I was kind of searching to find maybe what I had before,” he said.

He’d like to have some of the form on Sunday that helped him win the 2014 Shriners Hospital for Children Open, his lone Tour title.  Sunday’s final round marks 2,954 days since the victory.

Sahith Theegala lurking

Sahith Theegala plays his shot from the 15th tee at Sea Island Resort Seaside Course in St. Simons Island, Georgia. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Sahith Theegala has a laid-back demeanor but he admitted his frustration got the better of him on Saturday.

“I’m sure a hot mic might’ve caught some stuff. Nothing too bad,” he said with a big smile. “It was just like the one on 18 was probably the most frustrating. Just a perfect 9- iron, little cut, my bread and butter, and I just hit it half an inch fat and it came up short left, which I feel like I was hitting it to 45 feet all day and I was just like, gosh, dude. Like just all day. Are you kidding me?”

What Theegala, who complained that he only had two or three looks inside 15 feet all day, forgot to mention was that he still managed to shoot a bogey-free 2-under 68 to improve to 13-under for the tournament and trails by one stroke going into the final round of the RSM Classic.

“It’s pretty sick we’re still in contention here without our best stuff today, and tomorrow is obviously new day,” Theegala said.

On Saturday, he helped his cause by draining one long-range bomb, a 57-foot birdie at No. 2, his longest made putt on Tour. But he’s encouraged by the fact that he’s in contention without having his best stuff.

“Yeah, I think about it all the time. Even a good or bad round I’m like, dang, there so much room for improvement. I know this game is really hard and it’s impossible to be perfect, but, yeah, there is just so much room to get better,” he said. “That’s a fun mindset to know that I haven’t had my best stuff and tomorrow could be the day that everything clicks.”

Pepperdine Waves in the house

Andrew Putnam plays a shot from a bunker on the 18th hole at Sea Island Resort Seaside Course in St Simons Island, Georgia. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

The Pepperdine Waves will be well-represented in the second-to-last group during the final round of the RSM Classic thanks to Andrew Putnam and Sahith Theegala.

“I saw that I needed to make that last five-footer to play with him, so I was happy to do that,” said Putnam, who shot 1-under 69 and heads into the final round at T-3, one stroke off the lead.

A third member of the group with Pepperdine ties is Carl Smith, who recruited Theegala when he was an assistant coach for the Waves and serves as his caddie and previously caddied for Putnam, too.

“He was on my bag two years ago,” Putnam said. “(Carl) went to the Korn Ferry Finals with Sahith, told me he wasn’t going to bounce on his bag. They made it through and then he ended up firing me.”

There are no hard feelings as Putnam and Smith still are roommates on the road quite often.

“It will be fun to play with him in the last round here and see if either he can get his first win or me get my second,” Putnam said.

Adam Svensson makes his move

Adam Svensson of Canada is bidding for his first PGA Tour title. (Logan Riely/Getty Images)

You know you’ve have a good day at the Seaside Course when you’ve made so many birdies – nine in all – that it’s tough to pick out the best of the bunch.

“I don’t even remember right now,” Adam Svensson said. “They’re all pretty good. I mean, best birdie? The one on two I think was, yeah, second hole. I hit driver, 7-iron in there and made a nice putt.”

Svensson, 28, made the biggest move during Saturday’s third round, posting 8-under 62 to improve from T-43 to T-3 heading into the final round.

Funny enough, Svensson actually thought he played better on Friday. Not that he was complaining about his performance on Saturday. When asked what was working for him, he didn’t hesitate. “Everything,” he said. “I just kind of got in the fairway and my iron play was pretty good.”

Starting on the back nine, Svensson jump-started his round at the par-5 15th with a 10-foot eagle and then reeled off six birdies on the front side, including a 15-footer at No. 2 and three in a row to finish his day. It was quite the turnaround after making his lone bogey of the day at his second hole of his round.

“I knew one bogey, it’s all good, I’m going to make some birdies,” he said. “But yeah, my game’s feeling really good and I just kept hitting it by the pin and if they don’t go in, they don’t go in, and making some putts.”

That’s a good recipe as Svensson, who recorded three top-10 finishes last season, seeks his first victory on the PGA Tour on Sunday.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek