Rahm rides early eagle to slim lead

Ex-champ up 1 at Tor­rey; McIl­roy tar­gets top rank­ing

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - COLLEGE BASKETBALL | BULLS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

SAN DIEGO — Jon Rahm is play­ing some of his best golf with two vic­to­ries and a run­ner-up in his last four tour­na­ments. He was at his best Satur­day at Tor­rey Pines, hol­ing a chip for birdie and a full gap wedge for eagle to start his round.

Even after a 7-un­der 65 for a one-shot lead in the Farm­ers In­sur­ance Open, Rahm knows as well as any­one that the hard work is still in front of him, mainly be­cause of who­ever might be be­hind him.

Three years ago, that was Rahm. He made two ea­gles over the last six holes for a 66 to cap­ture his first PGA Tour ti­tle. This year, it could be Ryan Palmer and Rory McIl­roy in the fi­nal group, maybe even Tiger Woods from five shots back.

“The back nine three years ago? It will do ab­so­lutely noth­ing, re­ally,” Rahm said. “The only thing it’s go­ing to do is keep me fo­cused, no mat­ter how good I’m play­ing, know­ing that some­body can come and do the same thing.”

After a two-hour fog de­lay, Rahm had the ideal start. He chipped in from just off the green at No. 1. Then, he hit a gap wedge from 111 yards that landed short of the hole and rolled in for an eagle.

Equally im­por­tant was sav­ing par on No. 5, and then on Nos. 12, 14 and 15, each of them feel­ing just as good as birdies.

It led to the low round of the day. He was at 12-un­der 204 and had a one-shot lead over Palmer, whose card was a mix­ture of birdies and bo­geys un­til a 10-foot birdie on the 17th gave him a 71.

Rahm and Palmer have good his­tory. They were team­mates at the Zurich Clas­sic in New Or­leans and won. This time they’re on their own, with com­pany.

McIl­roy can go to No. 1 in the world with a vic­tory, and after a poor fin­ish Fri­day, he got it right this time. McIl­roy hit a 5-iron from a bunker on No. 12 — the third­tough­est hole of the day — to 6 feet for birdie. He also pow­ered a 3-wood over the wa­ter to 20 feet on the par-5 18th that set up an easy birdie for a 67.

That left him three shots be­hind and in the fi­nal group with Rahm, the first time they’ve played to­gether on Sun­day on the PGA Tour.

“It was nice to shoot a good third round here and get my­self a lit­tle bit closer,” McIl­roy said. “There’s a lot of guys like 6-, 7-, 8-un­der par. Need to go out and try to repli­cate what I did to­day. If I can do that, I’ll have a good shot.”

Woods fin­ished with a 15-foot putt — his long­est of the round — on the par-5 18th and hopes it will give him some mo­men­tum go­ing into Sun­day. Never mind that the putt was for par. He sent his wedge over the green and into the bunker, and an­other dropped shot could have been costly. The par sal­vaged a 69 that got him within five. It wasn’t a bad score, it just felt like way after the start.

Woods opened with two birdies in three holes, chipped in for par, added two more birdies for a 32 and sud­denly was within two shots of the lead as he goes for a ninth vic­tory at Tor­rey Pines, and a record 83rd in his PGA Tour ca­reer.

But he didn’t make an­other birdie, and didn’t even have a chance at one from closer than 20 feet.

“It was im­por­tant to make that putt,” he said. “By the end of the day, there will prob­a­bly be 10, 11, 12 guys ahead of me. I’ve still got to go out there and post a low one to­mor­row.”

Woods was among 16 play­ers within five shots of the lead.

Sung Kang (67), PGA Tour rookie Harry Higgs (69) and Cameron Champ (68) joined McIl­roy at 9-un­der 207.

McIl­roy is play­ing for the first time since late Novem­ber and didn’t ap­pear to pick up too much rust dur­ing his break. This is his sec­ond time play­ing Tor­rey Pines, and it feels suited for him, even if he strug­gles like ev­ery­one else on poa greens.

“Even if you’re not mak­ing that many birdies but if you keep giv­ing your­self chances, it’s one of these cour­ses that you feel like you’re play­ing re­ally well, you might be a cou­ple un­der,” McIl­roy said. “That’s OK. No one else is go­ing that low. Keep do­ing the same thing to­mor­row and should be right there.”

DE­NIS POROY/AP

Spa­niard Jon Rahm tees off dur­ing the third round Satur­day at Tor­rey Pines.

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