NAPA, California. When the golf course is windy in the afternoon and the grass is hard and dry, Justin Lower knew there would be few opportunities for birdies.
He made the most of his chance on the last hole on Saturday in an attempt to win his first PGA Tour title.
Lower weathered the wind and scored a 3-under 69 to take a one-shot lead in the final round of the season-opening Fortinet Championship.
“I was just trying to make it as easy as possible, keep him in the game, keep him on the fairway, because I really think you can score from the fairway,” Lower said. “It’s very difficult to score from uneven ground, especially when the pins are hidden the way they are.”
Lower hit five shots in a round at Silverado Resort & Spa to give him his first career 54-hole lead in his 29th start on the PGA Tour.
“I’m sure I’ll be nervous, of course, but that’s just part of it,” he said. “I mean, that’s why we play. Playing on the PGA Tour with a chance of winning is awesome.”
Full Fortinet Championship Results
Willett took several minutes on the eighth green to blow off the leaves before making a birdie shot that briefly put him in the lead at 13 down.
Workers with blowers went out to the next hole to keep the green clean, but Willett made a double intimidating 7 after his close shot went wide of the green.
“The start of the day was rough, it was very windy,” Willett said. “It’s hard to try and hold some of those forward flags when it’s swinging in the wind when the area is really small, but yes, a bit of patchwork golf.”
There was little chance for birdies when players were happy with pairs at the end of the day. This resulted in a very tight leaderboard with eight players within three shots of Sunday’s lead.
N moved into a one-hit lead when he hit the target from a tee on a par-3, 15th came in and then made a birdie from about 6 feet to get to 13 below. But he bounced back, and more, with a double scarecrow in par-5 on the 16th when his second shot got stuck near a tree root.
“It was hard today, it was a bit windy, the greens were getting harder and harder,” Ahn said. “I feel like I played decently throughout the match. A bit unlucky.”
This opened the door for Lower, who landed his second par-5 18 close to the green and then made a short birdie shot.
It’s been quite a few weeks for Lower, who appears to have lost his touring card after posting the last home of the Wyndham Championship three times to a bogey when he only needed parity to stay in the top 125. But after several LIV Tour defections, Lower is back in the top 125 and is taking advantage of this in the first tournament of the new season.
Conditions are not expected to be much better in the final round, which has already been altered by an ominous forecast of rain and wind. The leaders will start the game a few hours earlier than scheduled, and split tee triplets will be featured in the final round.
Davis Thompson and Harrison Endicott fought back the day’s low rounds with 65s, leaving Harrison in a four-way tie for fifth place with Paul Haley II, Matt Kuchar and Adam Svensson. Endicott was one stroke behind in a four-way tie to finish in ninth place.
Endicott, the first player to take the field and play singles in his first career tournament, birdied on the last hole of the second round. He overcame a broken rider at the start of this round and was happy to have all of his clubs available on Saturday.
“Definitely helps when you have a driver in your bag after yesterday’s shenanigan with a battered driver’s face,” he said. “It’s hard to hit 3-wood everywhere on this golf course. So it was nice to be free, to play some good golf today.”
Haley, who had 3,315 days between the 2013 Wyndham Championship tour and the start of that tournament, was tied with Thompson in the group 10 short at 66.