Miami – Jon Rahm stormed into the lead at the Players Championship in Florida on Saturday, firing an eight-under-par 64 to take a one-shot advantage into the final round as he chases his first win of the year.
The 24-year-old Spanish ace surged into contention after taming TPC Sawgrass’s Stadium Course at Ponte Vedra Beach with a scintillating exhibition of accurate iron shots and solid putting.
The world number 10 only narrowly missed out on equalling the course record 63 after finishing the third round with a 15-under-par aggregate of 201.
Rahm took sole possession of the lead after overnight leader Rory McIlroy endured a mixed round. The Northern Ireland star recovered from a bogey-bogey start to card a two-under-par 70 to finish the day at 14 under.
England’s Tommy Fleetwood will also start the fourth round one off the pace.
Fleetwood recovered from a double-bogey on the first, and two more bogeys on the front nine, to card a two-under-par 70 for 14 under.
Rahm meanwhile is hoping to claim his first win of the year after a remarkably consistent start to 2019 which has included top-10 finishes in five of six starts.
The Spaniard attributed his success on Saturday to a new-found mental durability.
“For the past year or so, I’ve been working so hard in the mental aspect of my game, trying to keep myself in check a little bit more,” Rahm said after his round.
“That’s been the key this week. I’ve been so balanced, nothing like I used to be, not getting frustrated when I miss shots.
“I’ve been really proud the way I’ve handled. Hopefully tomorrow I can continue it and get a good round.”
Rahm’s fireworks on Saturday came on the back nine, which he completed in six under to move clear of the field.
A birdie on the 10th was followed by an eagle on the par-five 11th, when he drilled a magnificent second shot from the fairway to three feet from 244 yards.
A laser-guided tee shot to three feet on the par-three 13th yielded a further birdie, and then two more birdies on the 16th and 17th took him to eight under for the day.
McIlroy meanwhile was in trouble from the start, carding bogeys at the first and second to immediately give the chasing pack hope.
But he responded to that early setback on the par-three third hole, draining a 14-foot birdie putt to pick up a shot.
A further birdie followed on the seventh, when McIlroy steered a 141-yard iron from the fairway to 12 feet and then rolled in the birdie putt.
It got better on the 238-yard par-three eighth with another birdie.
A four iron off the tee left McIlroy with a tap-in for a birdie two to leave him at one under at the turn.
McIlroy had a long eagle putt on the 11th but had to settle for a birdie after his 40-foot effort missed by three feet.
That was as good as it got for McIlroy for the remainder of the back nine, with the four-time major winner missing a birdie chance on 18 to reclaim a share of the lead.
“To start two over through two and finish two under par I thought was a good effort,” McIlroy said.
“To play the final 16 holes in four under was good. I just need to keep hitting fairways and greens on Sunday. If I can do that, hopefully I can turn tomorrow into the best Sunday of the year so far.”
A crowded leaderboard behind the front three leaves Sunday’s final round wide open.
Australia’s Jason Day moved into contention with a four-under-par 68 on Saturday to go to 12 under, three off the lead.
Mexico’s Abraham Ancer is fifth on 11 under, one clear of six players tied for sixth place on 10 under which includes Dustin Johnson.
Leading scores after Saturday’s third round of the US PGA Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida (USA unless noted, par 72):
201 – Jon Rahm (ESP) 69-68-64
202 – Rory McIlroy (NIR) 67-65-70, Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 65-67-70
204 – Jason Day (AUS) – 70-66-68
205 – Abraham Ancer (MEX) – 69-66-70
206 – Ollie Schniederjans 71-70-65, Brandt Snedeker 69-72-65, Keegan Bradley 65-73-68, Dustin Johnson 69-68-69, Brian Harman 66-69-71, Jim Furyk 71-64-71
207 – Joel Dahmen 69-71-67, Patrick Reed 69-69-69, Adam Scott (AUS) 70-69-68, Kevin Kisner 68-68-71