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ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Talor Gooch is 18 holes away from achieving a lifetime dream of winning on the PGA Tour. He fired a 3-under 67 on Saturday to build a three-stroke lead heading into the final round of the RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club. The question remains: Will he be able to handle the pressure?
To hear Gooch tell it, he thrives in moments like this. On Sunday, if he gets in a tough spot, he’ll flash back to the second stage of PGA Tour Q-School in 2016. Playing at TPC Craig Ranch, his third trip to the grueling multi-stage process to earn playing privileges, Gooch, whose bank account had just about been depleted, entered the third round on the number.
“I was 3 over through four walking off the par 3 and I thought to myself, I don’t know why this came up, but Best Buy, ‘I’m going to have to go work at Best Buy, I’m going to have to go do something to make a few bucks unless you like get it together,’” Gooch recalled. “Yeah, I think just as a sportsman, if you don’t have that little bit of grit to go prove people wrong, you’re not going to make it.”
Gooch showed plenty of grit on Saturday. It was a chilly, windy day that was better suited for sipping a cup of hot cocoa, or something stronger, and curling up with a book around a log fire. When Tom Hoge, who shot 3-under 67 on Saturday, was asked what he was most satisfied with from his day, he answered, “That we finished and we’re in a warm building here.”
Gooch rolled in two birdies on the front nine and led by as many as three strokes, but Sebastian Munoz tied him for the lead with birdies at Nos. 7 and 9 and a bogey at 10 by Gooch. A three-putt from 19 feet at the par-3 12th slowed Munoz’s momentum – his second bogey in a row – but he birdied 15 to finish at 13 under and is tied for second.
“On 12 Talor gave me a good line and I just wanted to bury it like in front of him and I got a little greedy, got myself like a six-footer coming back and I missed it,” Munoz said.
Ireland’s Seamus Power, who knows a thing or two about playing in the wind, also shared the lead briefly with Gooch on the back nine. He chipped in for eagle at the par-5 15th and signed for a 3-under 67 to share second with Munoz.
“It was a pretty straightforward shot, but obviously with the wind nothing is that easy,” Power said of his eagle chip in. Power noted that he has lived in the U.S. for 15 years and made it sound like he had become just another Irishman who had sought warmer climes and whose blood has thinned.
“I’ve gotten kind of like pick and choosy with my weather,” he said.
Every time someone mounted a charge to catch Gooch, he had an answer. Gooch made birdies on two of the last four holes to give himself his first 54-hole lead. For the week, he leads the field in Strokes Gained: Around the Green and ranks fifth in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green. It’s a continuation of strong play for Gooch, who has shown steady progress since turning pro and has been knocking on the door all fall to earn his first PGA Tour title.
“Over the last two months, I have a hard time thinking anyone is hitting the ball any better,” said Gooch’s swing instructor Boyd Summerhays.
Gooch’s stinger drive, a product of his upbringing in Oklahoma, has been a weapon in the wind. Sunday, A.K.A. payday, is a different day, and Gooch always has been the pursuer rather than the pursued in the trophy hunt. Power finally broke the victory seal a few months ago at the Barbasol Championship and already booked his ticket for the Sentry Tournament of Champions, while Sebastian Munoz last won at the Sanderson Farms Championship in 2018. Gooch said he’s ready for the pressure of trying to close out his first win in his 104th Tour start.
“If you don’t enjoy pressure, you’re in the wrong sport, you know,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate since I’ve been five years old to have a group of buddies that when we’re together we’re always competing at something, we’re always doing something to put some pressure and try to break each other basically. So, it’s just what I’ve always known is just try to enjoy the pressure and try to prove people wrong.”
Gooch expects to hear from his five buddies tonight in some form or another. What will they discuss? Likely, their golf buddies trip, which is always scheduled for the first week of January in Scottsdale, Arizona. That happens to be the same week as the PGA Tour’s next tournament at Kapalua in Maui, and reserved for winners only.
“I’m hopeful that we’re going to have to adjust that,” he said. “So that’s what will be talked about.”