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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Russell Henley’s goal of winning this season on the PGA Tour is within his grasp despite a scratchy, grind-it-out round on Saturday.
“I’m not always going to shoot 62 or 64,” said Henley, who did just that the first two rounds en route to shooting a 54-hole total of 15-under 195. “I feel thankful to be under par today.”
On another scorching-hot day in the Gate City, Henley canned a 33-foot eagle putt at the par-5 15th to shoot 1-under 69 at Sedgefield Country Club, and maintained his lead after three rounds of the Wyndham Championship.
“I was just a little bit tentative, maybe a little bit nervous,” Henley conceded. “I’ve never had a four-shot lead, so just kind of dealing with all the thoughts that are not wanted in my head and just trying to focus on what I want to do.”
Henley’s lead was trimmed to three by Tyler McCumber, who fired a bogey-free 66.
Russell Henley gestures to the crowd after making an eagle on the fifteenth hole during the third round of the Wyndham Championship golf tournament. (Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports)
Henley, 32, who talked about his phone alert that reminds him he’s a great putter on Thursday, didn’t make nearly as many putts on Saturday, including suffering a 3-putt bogey at the last from 52 feet. He made a 2-putt birdie at the par-5 fifth and a bogey at 11 and his lead was trimmed to as little as one before he drilled the long eagle putt. (He made a total of 73 feet of putts for the day and 33 of those were on one putt.)
“I hit it a little too hard so I was glad it hit the hole,” he said.
Henley’s short game picked up the slack. He rescued pars at Nos. 12 and 13 that set the stage for his eagle heroics. For the week, Henley has successfully scrambled on 12 of 14 attempts. None were better than the one he made at 13 from the downslope near a bunker to the right of the green.
“If I ground my club, I think my ball would have rolled in the bunker, so I couldn’t really put my club down all the way,” he explained. “I had a ton of green to work with and I just judged it with the correct wedge and the right flight and got that up and down. That was a confidence booster under that circumstance.”
Henley said he’s worked hard to improve his short game the past few years, including practicing regularly with former Masters champion Larry Mize, and gaining structure in his practice routine from his putting coach Ramon Bescansa.
“I still don’t feel like I’m the best chipper out here or anything, but I feel a little more comfortable because of the work I’ve put in,” Henley said.
McCumber, 30, is seeking his first PGA Tour title. The son of former Players Championship winner Mark McCumber entered the week having missed six straight cuts but said he’s sticking to “his same recipe.”
“I’ve been playing great,” McCumber said. “Golf doesn’t always give you the results you want. You’ve got to stay in the process and I feel like I’ve been doing that pretty well and getting rewarded for it through the first three rounds this week, so taking that momentum into tomorrow.”
He’ll play in the final group alongside Henley and South Africa’s Branden Grace, who trails Henley by four strokes after shooting 64. Tee times were moved up to the morning with hopes of avoiding inclement weather forecast for later in the day. Overnight rain could also change the complexion of the tournament as Henley tries to become the first wire-to-wire winner this season on Tour. (Sam Burns at the Genesis Invitational, Louis Oosthuizen at the British Open and Harris English last week at the WGC FedEx St. Jude all failed in their attempts.) Twice previously this season, Henley has held or shared the 54-hole lead and both times – at the CJ Cup at Shadow Creek and U.S. Open – he failed to convert.
Lurking within striking distance are some notables familiar with visiting the winner’s circle, including Justin Rose (-10), Adam Scott (-10) Kevin Kisner (-11) and Kevin Na (-11). Said Kisner, who climbed to within a stroke of the lead before bogeys at the final two holes: “I’ve got to shoot something silly tomorrow to have a chance.”
Henley’s been around long enough to know someone just might shoot something silly at Sedgefield.
“Guys could shoot 10 under or they could shoot 2 over here,” said Henley, who hasn’t won since the 2017 Shell Houston Open. “I don’t feel like I’m in a position where I can lay off the gas.”
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