The Roundup: Koepka in Command
Recap of the day
After yielding NO bogey-free laps in R1, The Club at Nine Bridges gave up five in R2 and 10 on Moving Day.
Rafa Cabrera Bello, out of the eighth-to-last threesome, tied the lowest blemish-free of the day with Ted Potter, Jr., each with 7-under 65s, while Cameron Smith, out of the fifth-to-last threesome, matched new-leader Brooks Koepka with blemish-free 67.
Cab Bello and Smith, both 3rd-place finishers a couple (or three times) on TOUR, will play out of the penultimate threesome in R4 as they eye their first individual TOUR titles, and will begin five back of recently minted Player of the Year Koepka.
Overnight leader Scott Piercy conjured an up-and-down 72 but a birdie-birdie finished got him back into the final 3-ball for the finale. He’s four adrift of Koepka, along with Ian Poulter, who birdied three of his final four for 68 and will complete the final group.
Low round of the day: Shubhankar Sharma matched the low round of the week (Brian Harman/R2) and his career-TOUR-low with 64 (9 birdies, 1 bogey). His other 64 came in R2 at last week’s CIMB out of the final threesome, which tied him for the 54-hole lead with Gary Woodland and (eventual winner) Leishman, before level-par 72 for T10.
Revised outright betting: Koepka 1/4; Poulter 14/1; Smith 18/1; Woodland 20/1; Piercy 20/1; Day, Cabrera Bello 25/1
Sunday weather forecast
Mostly sunny with a high of 69 and a 1% chance of rain. Winds ENE at 9 mph, gusts to 13.
Leaders at 54 holes
Brooks Koepka (67, 203) – Began one back of playing competitor Piercy and after eight straight pars, got going with back-to-back circles at 9 and 10. Penciled three more at 14, 17 and 18. Pedestrian 2.000 putts per GIR on 13 greens but 5-for-5 in scrambles and made all the putts that counted.
Ian Poulter (68, 207) – Out of the penultimate threesome, the Englishman circled three of his final four to forge his way into the final 3-ball on Sunday. His most recent of three TOUR titles is the 2018 Houston Open as a 54-hole co-leader, which was his first in a full-field event, and ended a five-year, five-month drought, last winning the no-cut 2012 WGC-HSBC Champions, where he came from four back with 7-under 65 to win by two.
Scott Piercy (72, 207) – 36h leader exchanged five birdies with five bogeys, the birdie-birdie finish salvaging a 3-for-7 showing in scrambles. Last (of three) individual wins is the 2015 opposite-field Barbasol as a 54-hole co-leader. The SDSU alum also won the 2018 Zurich, teamed with Billy Horschel.
Fate of the favorites
Justin Thomas (72, 215) – Save for an opening 63 and the first-round lead at last year’s inaugural – eventually winning in extra time – his next six laps have been 74, 70, 72, 73, 70, 72. That’s a commercial 1-under for his last 108 holes. Closed last week’s CIMB with a day-tying-low 64 for a back-door T5. He’s six swings shy of the overnight top 10 this week, looking for something similar.
Brooks Koepka – See above (& below); will add here that Koepka ranked No. 1 last season in R4 Scoring Average at 68.27. A win, or possibly solo 2nd, and he’ll be the new No. 1 in the world.
Jason Day (65, 209) – even-par and T30 after two rounds, but just four short of the overnight top 10. Vaulted 20 places to T10, smothering three bogeys with a walk-off eagle-3 and eight birdies, including five straight at holes 5-9. That’s nine par breakers on just 12 GIR. Six back of Koepka now but just two shy of second place.
Hideki Matsuyama (66, 211) – began 1-over and T44 and leapt 27 spots to T17 after bogey-free 66. Raced out with three circles in his first four, added three more on the bounce at 12-14. Hit all 18 greens with 1.667 putts per GIR.
Brooks Koepka (67, 203) – “I felt like I played pretty solid today, still putted very well, put the ball in good spots to give myself good chances. Avoided the bunkers because they can be very penalizing, but just need to keep doing what I’m doing. A little warmer so the ball was going a little further, but just clean that wedge game up, everything should be fine.”
Rafa Cabrera Bello (65, 208) – “Yeah, I felt that I put myself in this position. I’m clearly swinging well, playing good, doing smart things, so I think if I have a good day tomorrow, depending on how the leaders finish and how they do tomorrow as well, I will sure have a chance, yeah.”
Road to victory at Nine Bridges
2018: Justin Thomas – R1: 1st; R2: T4; R3: T1; R4: T1
Focus on – Brooks Koepka
In a lengthy post-round presser, Koepka stated, “My confidence has always been pretty high. Anytime you can win three majors you’re going to feel pretty good about yourself. To do what I’ve done over the last two years has been special, but I’m looking to build on that.”
Making his tournament debut, the FSU product is chasing his fifth TOUR title in 105 events, third in his last 10 starts. This is his fifth 54-hole lead/co-lead, previously 2-for-4 converting, two for his last two. The 28-year-old was a 54-hole quad-leader at the 2018 U.S. Open, shot 2-under 68 out of the penultimate twosome and won by one, tying the U.S. Open scoring record (to par) on 16-under.
Five starts later, he led the 100th PGA by two, shot 4-under 66 out of the final twosome to win by two. The Floridian recorded a new aggregate scoring record of 264, also on 16-under, buoyed by a course- and tournament-record 63 in R2.
Focus on – Pat Perez
The 42-year-old finished T5 in last year’s inaugural, capping with a day-low 68 and the only blemish-free lap in R4. He checked in this week off a disappointing T63 at the CIMB (as defending champ), 22 shots adrift of champion Marc Leishman.
The Arizona State product has rebounded with rounds of 72-68-68, the last two blemish-free, and is bogey-free 10-under for his last 42 holes. There’s been 234 total rounds played so far with just 15 bogey-free (6.4%), and Perez is the only player with multiple rounds without a drop.
Perez owns three TOUR wins in 426 events, two outside of the U.S., most recently last season’s CIMB as a second- and third-round leader. Prior to that, he came from one back with 4-under 67 to win the 2017 OHL Classic by two. The Arizonian is T4 on 8-under, five back. He’ll play out of the third-to-last threesome in R4.