Moving Day becomes Groundhog Day

Writing from Lake Forest, Illinois

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Ken Venturi must be spinning in his grave. But Bill Murray would have loved it.

It was Moving Day at the BMW Championship, and nobody moved.

The third round at Conway Farms Golf Club opened with Marc Leishman leading and Jason Day and Rickie Fowler tied for second.

It ended with Leishman leading and Day and Fowler tied for second.

It was more like Groundhog Day.

Leishman is at 19-under-par 194 after a 3-under-par 68. Day and Fowler each scored 1-under 70 to sit at 14-under 199 entering Sunday’s final round. The five-stroke lead Leishman enjoys matches the lead Day had at Conway Farms going into the final round two years ago. In other words, Leishman has one hand on the J.K. Wadley Trophy, and the engraver is making sure there’s no K in Leishman’s first name.

Behind the three at the top are, to quote Capt. Renault, all the usual suspects. Justin Rose, winner of the BMW the last time it was played at Cog Hill, alone in fourth at 12-under via a bogey-free 5-under 66. Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar and Ryan Moore among a sevensome tied for fifth at 11-under.

Rahm had the best round among those suspects, a 6-under 65 to climb from 29th place, but even that wasn’t low enough to make a significant move. Eight strokes behind going into the final round, he and the others at 202 are playing for second unless Leishman collapses.

Say, like he did at TPC Boston on Labor Day, where he fired a back-nine 40 on Labor Day and watched Justin Thomas run by to grab the trophy.

Leishman, who can match Day’s wire-to-wire victory of two years ago, said, as might be expected, that the key was in putting four solid rounds together, but noted, “After what I did at the Dell, there’s determination to finish this one off, and my game is in a better spot. I always tell my wife, if I have a bad round, give me 10 minutes. That one probably took a day.”

Much of Saturday was a display of inertia on the leader board. Aside from Fowler’s eagle on the par-4 first hole – a 24-foot putt from the fairway after a 332-yard drive – there were more pars than anything else. Day hit nine fairways and eight greens en route to fashioning his 70, Fowler didn’t make a putt longer than eight feet in posting his 70, and Leishman plodded along to his 3-under reading, getting up-and-down from the right rough for a birdie 4 at the last.

“It was a bit of a grind out there today,” Day said. “The greens started to get a little firmer, the fairways started to get a little firmer.”

Which partially explains his 366-yard drive on the 18th hole, which yielded only a par 5 when he bunkered his approach. 

Rahm needs to repeat his jump on Sunday to make it a fight, but it won’t be easy. The last player to blow a five-stroke lead entering the final round was Bob Dickson at Butler National in 1976, though Greg Norman rates special mention for blowing a similar margin with eight holes to play in the first venture to Cog Hill in 1991. The odds on Leishman stubbing his toe in similar fashion are high.

Rahm’s 65 was built on hitting 15 greens in regulation, which begat 27 putts.

“I had to hope to make a couple putts, which I did today,” Rahm said as 20,000 spectators made for their shuttle busses. “I still missed a few.”

Around Conway Farms

Leishman’s 54-hole total of 194 is a stroke off the Western Open / BMW record of 20-under 193, established by Day at Conway Farms two years ago. He went on to win by six strokes over Daniel Berger. ... The scoring average was well under par for the third straight day, at 69.420. Only six holes played over par. ... Louis Oosthuizen went out at 7:30 a.m. as a single and shot 5-under 66, earning himself a fellow competitor in Si Woo Kim on Sunday. Bryan Wesley drops into the go-it-alone spot. ... Sunday’s fun follow is at 11:30 a.m.: Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson. Early risers might chase after the 8:46 a.m. duo: Zach Johnson and Rory McIlroy. ... Former U.S. Open champions Lucas Glover and Webb Simpson each fired 6-under 65s.

Tim Cronin

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