12 January 2020: Amidst a smattering of showers, Brendan Steele birdied the last three holes to account for a three-stroke advantage over Cameron Smith as the Sony Open in Hawaii reached the final round. Steele shot 64 to end the day at 12-under, with Smith pushing hard at 9-under 201. Kevin Kisner also made 64 to climb into the third spot, just one behind Smith.
Incidentally, Smith matched Steele over the final stretch. He too made birdies on the last three holes on his way to a 66. Smith is chasing his first strokeplay victory on the PGA TOUR, with is lone victory coming at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in the company of Jonas Blixt in 2017. The 26-year-old finished T3 at The CJ Cup during the fall season last year.
“I’ve come from behind before in tournaments and I’ll draw from that tomorrow,” Smith said.
“Should be a nice battle. Hopefully some more conditions like this. Bit tougher conditions I think will bring a lot of people into it, so should be exciting. If we got more stuff like that I think it’s not so much of a chase, it’s just being smart and hopefully the putts drop.”
Brendan Steele seeks to end the drought
Steele is a three-time winner on the PGA TOUR, but has been facing a severe drought. A third-place finish in the Phoenix Open in February 2018 has been his last significant result on the TOUR. He finished 171st on the FedEx Cup rankings last year, only the second time that he has dropped out of the top 125. He ended up 130th in 2012, a year after winning his first title at the Texas Open.
“I was dragging my family with me everywhere, and that was hard on them,” Steele acknowledged.
“Really tough balance that we don’t talk about a lot out here. I’ve been out here a long time. I’ve been a pro for 15 years now, and sometimes it just gets old.
“But I kind of relit my fire in the off-season and have been trying to work hard on my game and get the confidence back as well.”
Kisner is in familiar territory. He finished T5 in 2016 and T4 in 2017, making his ninth start at the Sony Open this week. The 2019 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play winner is four strokes off the pace but is high on confidence after a career-best ninth in the FedEx Cup last year.
“I think that’s the biggest key to the whole week, is seeing how the golf ball was flying last week; not coming fresh off the couch and Christmas break and trying to play in these conditions,” Kisner said.
“I told my caddie that we’re going to be more prepared than most of the guys. I feel comfortable, and hopefully I can keep it going tomorrow.”
Collin Morikawa leads the outside bets
Collin Morikawa is a further stroke back at 7-under as he seeks to find a second taste of success. He is the reigning Barracuda Championship winner and was in the lead in Hawaii at the end of the first round. Webb Simpson made birdies on the last two holes to join Morikawa at 7-under through 54 holes. Simpson was T4 in 2018 when he last played the Sony Open. Ryan Palmer shot a second straight 68 to join Morikawa and Simpson at T4.
Mark Anderson made the third 64 on the day as he pushed 36 spots into T7. Sungjae Im, Bo Hoag and Keegan Bradley are all tied with him at 6-under to packed inside the top ten heading into a windy Sunday.
Graeme McDowell tied a PGA TOUR record on Saturday. He made seven consecutive 3s starting at the 16th hole through to the fourth as he posted a 67. The last man to achieve the feat was Scott Verplank at the Texas Open in 2008. Hideki Matsuyama continued the repair job, adding a second 67 to his bag. The Japanese started the week with a 74 before forcing his way into the weekend by a bogey-free 67 on Friday.
After six men posted bogey-free cards on Friday, there were none in the third round.