Day in the lead at PGA as Spi­eth makes a charge

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Three times this year, Jason Day has gone into the fi­nal round of a ma­jor with his name atop the leader­board. Twice this year, Jor­dan Spi­eth has posed with the tro­phy.

The two hottest golfers face off in the fi­nal group of the fi­nal ma­jor of the year at the PGA Cham­pi­onship, both want­ing noth­ing more than to have their named etched on the Wana­maker Tro­phy. Both go into the fi­nal round re­ly­ing on a dif­fer­ent set of mem­o­ries.

Day made six con­sec­u­tive 3s in the mid­dle of his round, lost mo­men­tum with a dou­ble bo­gey from a bunker and then stead­ied him­self with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that sent him to a 6-un­der 66 and a two-shot lead over Spi­eth.

“I’m not look­ing it as a neg­a­tive,” Day said about his close calls. “You can’t, be­cause you’ve got two shots and I’ve played phe­nom­e­nal golf lead­ing up to this. But now I’ve got to fo­cus on round four. Ev­ery­thing I need to do is just make sure that I fo­cus and pre­pare my­self for to­mor­row.”

Spi­eth was los­ing pa­tience with nine straight pars un­til he blis­tered the back nine, closed with three straight birdies and shot 65.

He was five shots be­hind and had two holes to play, hope­ful to stay within three or four shots. He wound up only two shots be­hind and poised to join Tiger Woods (2000) and Ben Ho­gan (1953) as the only play­ers to win three ma­jors in one sea­son.

Just like his bid for the Grand Slam that ended at St. An­drews, Spi­eth is more con­cerned with one tro­phy than a col­lec­tion.

“Just to try to get my name on the Wana­maker Tro­phy, that’s about it. That’s the only history I’ll be think­ing of when we step on the first tee is you can hoist that tro­phy to­mor­row and make it hap­pen,” Spi­eth said. “I’ll go into to­mor­row strictly for the history piece of try­ing to get my name on a dif­fer­ent ma­jor.” Day was at 15-un­der 201. The abun­dant sun­shine and end­less ac­tion Satur­day might have been a preview for what could be a sen­sa­tional end to the ma­jors. And while the fo­cus is on Day and Spi­eth, this was hardly a two-man race.

Branden Grace holed out from the front bunker on the tough 18th hole for birdie and a 64, the low score of the third round that put him three shots out of the lead. The South African was tied for the lead with three holes to play in the U.S. Open un­til hit­ting his drive out-of-bounds onto the rail­road track at Cham­bers Bay.

Justin Rose, de­spite a dou­ble bo­gey on the fourth hole for the sec­ond straight day, had a 68 and was three shots be­hind. And not to be over­looked was Martin Kaymer, the win­ner at Whistling Straits five years ago. He had a 65 and was four shots be­hind.

But in this un­de­ni­able gen­er­a­tion shift in golf, Day and Spi­eth in the fi­nal pair­ing is com­pelling.

Spi­eth, even with a Mas­ters and U.S. Open ti­tle in hand, still has a chip on his shoul­der the way he lost his bid at St. An­drews. He was tied for the lead with two holes to play and fin­ished one shot out of a play­off at the Bri­tish Open.

“When I think of this be­ing the last ma­jor of the year, it’s a lit­tle bit of a sad feel­ing be­cause I re­ally, thor­oughly en­joy play­ing in ma­jors,” Spi­eth said. “You want to make the most of it, even though ... we’ve won two this year.

The turn­around late Satur­day af­ter­noon was stun­ning.

Look­ing de­ter­mined as ever, in con­trol of his swing and putting beau­ti­fully, Day was 6 un­der over a six-hole stretch in the mid­dle of his round. That in­cluded an ea­gle on the 11th hole, where he hit his drive with such force that he hit pitch­ing wedge to 15 feet. One swing changed ev­ery­thing. He tugged a 5-iron into a bunker left of the 15th green and was sur­prised by the amount of sand. The first shot didn’t make it up the slope and rolled back into the sand, and Day wound up with a dou­ble bo­gey right about the time Spi­eth shifted into another gear.

Spi­eth made a two-putt birdie on the par-5 16th and then hit 4-iron to 12 feet for a birdie on the 17th. His goal af­ter a slow start was to stay close enough to have a chance on Sun­day.

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