Recap of the day
The Saturday trade winds were a little tougher than had been forecast earlier in the week and that impacted on the scoring, with no-one going lower than 68 and there was very little in the way of big moves. In fact a pair of 69s for Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm saw them creep four spots up the leaderboard, the biggest gains of anyone currently in the top ten. Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Kevin Tway labored, failed to break 70, and it leaves the latter two a little off the pace. DeChambeau shares fourth with Xander Schauffele whose 68 continued his good progress since a sluggish opening lap. Marc Leishman is alone in third after his 68, Rory McIlroy has second after the same number and he briefly held the lead, but Gary Woodland made a late eagle and birdie to secure his own 68 and spring three clear.
Leaderboard: -17 Gary Woodland, -14 Rory McIlroy, -13 Marc Leishman, -12 Xander Schauffele, Bryson DeChambeau
Notables: -10 Justin Thomas, -9 Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, -6 Cameron Champ, E Brooks Koepka,
Low round of the day: the 68 which the four players mentioned above, plus Paul Casey, all hit.
Revised outright betting: Woodland 8/11, McIlroy 11/4, Leishman 8/1, DeChambeau 12/1, Schauffele 16/1
Sunday weather forecast
Sunny skies, temperatures in the mid 70s, 60% humidity and almost no chance of rain. Perfect, except for a delicious golfing test: an unusual wind direction is about to be thrown into the mix. The previous gusts of more than 20mph should drop to around 10mph, but it will be N/NE rather than the E/NE of early in the week.
Leaders after at 54 holes
Gary Woodland (68, 202) – He missed just one fairway, but his Greens in Regulation number of 83.33% drew his week average down to 85.19%. He had a smart front nine with three birdies, but dropped a shot at 12 and was suddenly tied for the lead. Response was an eagle-3 from 63’11” at the 15th and birdie-4 from 12’1” at the 18th.
Rory McIlroy (68, 205) – Like Woodland he hit more fairways Saturday (73.33% against 66.67% for the week) yet his Greens in Regulation number went backwards (83.33% with the week 88.89%). Made four front nine birdies, but only one on the way home to concede the advantage to Woodland.
Marc Leishman (68, 206) – Improved on the first two laps in keeping the destructive numbers off the card (triple bogey in R1, double bogey in R2). There was one bogey, but six birdies. Gained 2.934 strokes on the greens, the best of the current top five.
Fate of the Favourites
Dustin Johnson (69, 210) – Opened the back nine with a double bogey-6 which seemed to end his title hopes, but four birdies in the final eight holes gives him a (very) outside shot. Gained 3.008 shots on the greens.
Justin Thomas (70, 209) – Missed birdie chances from inside seven feet on the opening two holes and it set the tone. In all failed to convert six looks from 13 feet or closer despite the 3-under total.
Brooks Koepka (73, 219) – Found just ten greens in regulation and his SG: Putting number of 0.000 sort of comically sums up the week. His level-par lap was made up of three birdies, one eagle, three bogeys and one double bogey.
Gary Woodland (68) – “It’s nice playing with Rory because he plays really quick and we hit it similar distances so we can club off each other. And he's a great guy so that definitely helps tomorrow. I've got to go out and play aggressive. I'm playing well enough where I don't have to play conservative. I can attack and continue to trust what I'm doing and should be good.”
Woodland on his family news – “I lost my grandma last night. It's been tough and you try to prepare for that, but you never really can. Definitely will have a little extra emotion with me, but we'll get through it."
Rory McIlroy (68) – “Harry and I need to do a good job tomorrow of just hitting it to the right spots on the fairways. There's going to be a lot of holes where I'm not hitting the same club off the tee as I was the previous few days and it's just about picking your spots to hit at and trusting that this is what you need to do and just trying to be a little more thoughtful about where you're placing the golf ball. That's going to be key tomorrow.”
Marc Leishman (68) – “I need to get off to a good start. It depends how the other boys start as well as to how aggressive I get. We haven't played this course in, in the (predicted) conditions very often so it's sort of hard to tell what the scores are going to do, but, yeah, either way I'm going to have to play really good golf.”
Xander Schauffele (68) – “I feel like I'm playing well. It's nice to be playing well this early in the year. Usually I'm sort of a mid-year kind of guy, so we're trying to learn how to peak at the right moments.”
Road to Victory at Plantation
2018 Dustin Johnson – R1: 4th, R2: 3rd, R3: 1st
2017 Justin Thomas – R1: 2nd, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2016 Jordan Spieth – R1: 2nd, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2015 Patrick Reed – R1: 3rd, R2: 5th, R3: 3rd
2014 Zach Johnson – R1: 5th, R2: 1st, R3: 4th
Notes: The last three winners had leads of two, two and five strokes at this stage so Woodland, should he convert, is on trend. There has not been a winner emerge from further than two swings back at 54 holes since Stuart Appleby in 2005, but note that he came from four back and that was also achieved in 2001 and 2002 (Jim Furyk and Sergio Garcia).
Fate of the 54-hole Leaders at Plantation - where did they finish?
2018 – Dustin Johnson 1st
2017 – Justin Thomas 1st
2016 – Jordan Spieth 1st
2015 – Jimmy Walker 2nd, Hideki Matsuyama 3rd
2014 – Jordan Spieth 2nd, Webb Simpson 3rd, Dustin Johnson 6th
Notes: In the 21st century 12 of the leaders (solo or shared) with 18 holes to play (2013 was a 54-hole tournament) completed the win.
Focus on – Gary Woodland’s Advantage
The 34-year-old from Kansas can take heart from the fate of previous players to hold a significant advantage with 18 holes to play on this undulating track in Hawaii. He is the fifth man to take a lead of three or more shots into the last lap since 2000 and all four who went before him converted the victory (Vijay Singh 2007, Steve Stricker 2012, Dustin Johnson 2013, Jordan Spieth 2016). Players with a two shot lead at this stage also have a strong record: 5-for-6 with the only failure the first of them (Rory Sabbatini in 2001).
Now the less good news – his own record sleeping on a lead. We noted in yesterday’s Roundup that in normal strokeplay he is 0-for-4 converting a 36-hole lead and with 18-holes to play he is worse: 0-for-6. But there are two riders. The first is that he has only previously shared the lead (four times) or held a narrow one-shot advantage (twice). The second is that in the stableford Reno-Tahoe Open of 2013 he was well clear of the field at 54 holes and pushed on for a comfortable win.
Focus on – Rory McIlroy’s Troubles
McIlroy said late Saturday, about his failure to turn six final round last pairings into a win in 2018: “I probably pushed a little too hard, and it didn't really work out for me. I just have to go about my business. I didn't make a bogey today, so I'll make that a goal tomorrow.”
Looking at it from a slightly different point of view, he has been second heading into the final round 18 times in his career and he’s failed to grab a win from the last seven of them (five last year). The last time he moved up that one crucial spot? 2015 in the DP World Tour Championship (one of four wins from this position). The last four times he’s been in second he has ended the week tied for fifth, sixth or seventh.