Rodgers takes lead into final round

Writing from Silvis, Illinois

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Some 25 years ago, responding to Pat Summerall in the CBS Sports booth, Ken Venturi nicknamed the third round of a golf tournament Moving Day.

“Pat, you either move forward or you move back,” Venturi said on countless Saturdays.

On this Saturday, Daniel Berger, Scott Stallings and Rick Lamb moved forward at TPC Deere Run more forcefully than anyone else. But Patrick Rodgers stayed in front, his 3-under-par 68 for 16-under 197 placing him two strokes ahead of Berger and Stallings entering Sunday’s final round.

Next to nobody moved back. This is the John Deere Classic, after all, where birdies are the fuel for the record numbers the tournament-connected charity operation raises. It raised over $10.5 million last year and was named the PGA Tour’s tournament of the year.

Because it is, because TPC Deere Run yields low scores with panache – Saturday’s scoring average of 68.185 was the lowest for Round 3 since the Deere moved from Oakwood Country Club in 2000 – because the early-week rain and Friday’s cool weather has kept the fairways soft, look for another truckload of low scores in the final round.

That will be fine with Rodgers, who won 11 times in college at Stanford and grabbed a title on the circuit, but has yet to hoist a trophy on the PGA Tour.

“I hope I get everybody’s best golf tomorrow and I hope I play just a little bit better,” said Rodgers, who will have an eagle eye on the leader boards dotting the course.

“Probably the most comfortable I feel any time on Tour is up here at the top of the leader board,” he added. “I had a lot of experience winning in college and amateur golf, and I expected to come out here and win right away. Probably my biggest frustrations as a pro have been not getting it done yet. Part of the frustration so far has been not having as many chances as I would like.”

Two untidy bogeys prevented an even better round, but Rodgers’ advantage was never really threatened. Local hero Zach Johnson and physics whiz Bryson DeChambeau, his playing partners for the day, each scored 1-under 70, failing to put runs together despite flashes of brilliance, such as Johnson’s chip-in eagle 2 at the par-4 14th.

While many in the gallery of about 18,000 followed that trio, the sustained pushes came from farther back. Berger was tied for 21st and seven strokes in arrears at the start of the round and scored 8-under 63 to climb to 14-under 199. Stallings was six back in a deadlock for 11th and fired a 64 to match Berger, two back of Rodgers.

“As long as I can keep doing the same things that I’ve been doing, I’ll have a shot,” Berger said. “I just tried to give myself as many chances as I could. With the soft conditions, you can attack the flags.”

Berger, with brilliant approach irons, birdied seven of the first 11 holes to rocket to 13-under, on the heels of Rodgers. He bogeyed the par-4 13th, but birdied the 14th – driving into a greenside bunker and getting up and down for a 3 – and 17th coming in to land at 14-under. His longest made putt was 12 feet, and the second longest was 9 foot-1. Eight made putts were from gimme range. Given that and his outlook, two strokes back is nothing.

“I’ve been nine shots back and lost in the playoff,” Berger said, recalling the 2015 Honda Classic, where Padraig Harrington triumphed. “I think as long as I’m standing, I’m going to have a shot.”

Stallings asserted himself with a back-nine 30 that included an eagle on the par-5 17th set up by an approach to 21 feet. The putt toppled in with its last erg of energy.

“I thought I left it short, to be honest,” Stallings said.

That followed four birdies earlier on the inward half. Unlike Rodgers, three-time Tour winner Stallings won’t be watching the leader boards.

“I could care less about that,” Stallings said. “I couldn’t even tell you some of the other guys on the leader board. “

Using the adage that anyone within five strokes of the leader can win, there are 17 players with a Sunday shot, including the 10 players tied for eighth at 11-under 202, a group including 2010 winner Johnson and lefty Rick Lamb, whose 8-under 63, featuring an opening 30 on Deere Run’s back nine, might have been even lower.

“You don’t really think about it, you just kind of keep going,” said Lamb, who was 4-under after five holes, 6-under after eight, and 9-under after 13. He bogeyed the par-4 ninth, his last hole, to settle for 63.

Johnson would have loved any number starting with a 6, but was saddled with a 70 via sloppy shotmaking.

“Just lazy, lazy swings, which is unfortunate,” Johnson said. “Im going to try to birdie them all tomorrow. See how that goes.”

Nicholas Lindholm is the forgotten man in fourth place at 13-under 200 after a 5-under 66, while DeChambeau, Jamie Lovemark and J.J. Henry are tied for fifth at 201.

Around Deere Run

Amateurs Nick Hardy and Maverick McNealy, grouped with Richy Werenski, each scored 2-under 69, are at 7-under 206, and are paired together again Sunday (9:22 a.m.). ... The secondary cut was to the low 70 and ties, so 73 players will play on Sunday off the first tee beginning with Michael Kim at 7:20 a.m. Eight players, including Davis Love III, were trimmed, but still get last-place money. ... Four players lead the birdie brigade with 19 each: Rodgers, Berger, Lovemark and Kevin Tway. ... It would have been nine sitting out the final round but gaining a paycheck, except Robert Garrigus was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard after his round. He’d gone out in 1-under 34, but his third-round score was zapped from the scoring computers after the gaffe, when he signed for a lower score on one hole than he’d made. He’ll get nothing and not like it. ... Kelly Kraft had the shot of the day, a recovery shot from the back walkway of the 18th hole Greenside Club after hooking his tee shot on the par-5 17th well left. He smacked the recovery shot, which had to clear a steel railing, 203 yards and managed to save par.

– Tim Cronin

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