Recap of the day
The theory was good: An early start, two tees, everyone back in the clubhouse nice and early. Then the fog refused to clear and made a mockery of such plans. Eventually, the players hit the course and Tiger Woods made the first move, hitting the turn in 4-under-par, but a 1-over back nine left him stuck in the pack. Jon Rahm took up the baton of pace-setter, making birdie at the first and holing from 111-yards for an eagle-2 at the second. Unlike Woods he kept the peddle to the metal, adding another four birdies to complete a lap of 65 which set a clubhouse target of 12-under 204. Ryan Palmer (71) had front nine struggles, but stood firm to remain Rahm’s closest challenger, one shot back. Two blows behind in a tie for third are a prowling Rory McIlroy (67), an error-free Sung Kang (67), a swaggering Harry Higgs (69) and Cameron Champ (68) who nonchalantly dropped a 9’0” eagle-3 at the 18th.
Low round of the day: Rahm’s 65
Revised outright betting
Rahm 1/1, McIlroy 5/1, Palmer 6/1, Champ 20/1, Reed 25/1, Finau 25/1, Woods 28/1
Sunday weather forecast
Cooler than on Saturday (high 50s) yet higher humidity (high 80s). Little chance of rain but it will be cloudy. The wind will be about 9 mph and there’s a possibility of more fog in the morning.
Leaders after at 54 holes
Jon Rahm (65) – As starts to a round go, his was perfect. Chip-in birdie at the first, drained approach at the second. Nor did he waste it. Ranks top ten for four of five SG categories and leads the field Around the Green.
Ryan Palmer (71) – He's 10-under on the North Course this week and 1-under through 36 holes on the South Course. Bad news is, the final round stays south. Swapped three bogeys and three birdies on the front nine, came home with eight pars and a birdie.
Rory McIlroy (67) – How neat is this? In round two the Northern Irishman made three back-nine bogeys on the South Course. And guess what? He birdied all three of those holes in round three. Perfect redemption. Ranks outside the top 50 for SG: Off the Tee and Putting, but top ten for Tee to Green and Approach the Green.
Sung Kang (67) – Doesn’t rank top ten for any traditional stat category and does so for only one in SG which is Approach the Green.
Harry Higgs (69) – Ranks top ten for SG: Tee to Green and Around the Green, and he responded well to a first hole bogey, adding four par breakers.
Cameron Champ (68) – Leads the field for SG: Off the Tee and is second for Tee to Green. His final hole eagle vaulted him into contention for a third PGA Tour title.
Fate of the Favourites
Rahm and Rory we’ve dealt with, and Rose departed on Friday, which leaves only Tiger. He will be disappointed after a superb start because as he made the turn he was set to be a big part of the narrative, but he remains stuck on the fringes of it. Went 5-for-5 in Scrambling in round three.
Jon Rahm (65) – “A rather unusual start to a round, no putts and 3-under! I made a lot of good up-and-downs. It wasn’t a simple round or score. All credit to my short game. I was five shots off the lead at the start of the day, but I tried not to think too much about it. Pretty relaxed, but then I realized I was near the lead and then the course gets tough late in the round. How it proceeds depends on what Ryan (Palmer) does. If I do my job I’ll hopefully get it done.”
Road to victory at Torrey Pines
2019 – Justin Rose R1: 2nd, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2018 – Jason Day R1: 113th, R2: 6th, R3: 5th
2017 – Jon Rahm R1: 77th, R2: 21st, R3: 13th
2016 – Brandt Snedeker R1: 90th, R2: 57th, R3: 27th
2015 – Jason Day R1: 95th, R2: 6th, R3: 8th
Notes: We’ve noted all week that winners here have often been a long way off the lead through early rounds, but by the end of 54 holes that mayhem has tended to calm down. True, you’ll note that Snedeker was T27 and Rahm T13, but they are the only winners since 2003 who have been outside the top ten at this stage.
Fate of the halfway leaders at Torrey Pines – where did they finish?
2019 Justin Rose 1st
2018 Alex Noren 2nd
2016 KJ Choi 2nd, Scott Brown 49th
Focus on – Jon Rahm leading
The Spaniard has twice held a solo 54-hole lead: In the 2019 Players Championship he was one shot clear, added a 76, and finished T12. Seven months later he led the Open de Espana by five and maintained the advantage. From four shared third round leads he has claimed three victories. Five of those six leads occurred last year. An interesting final day dynamic? He and Palmer chose to play the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last year and won it. They’ll be reunited Sunday.
Focus on – Rory McIlroy chasing
A Rory versus Rahmbo finale would be pretty cool right? McIlroy is three shots back and his record from that situation is three wins from 21 experiences. What about from 3rd or T3? He’s 3-from-17.
Focus on – the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic
A terrific day of desert golf in which the field enjoyed ideal scoring conditions ahead of predictions of high wind for the final round. England’s Tom Lewis took early advantage, thrashing a 65 to set a clubhouse target of 9-under 207. He was later joined on that number by two Americans, the 2019 seasonal double winner Kurt Kitayama (68) and the tournament’s defending champion Bryson DeChambeau (70) who is fighting through illness. Frenchman Victor Perez struck a 67 to sneak one stroke clear of that pack on 10-under and he will seek a second ET title in eight starts on Sunday. But China’s Ashun Wu celebrated his New Year with a 67 that earned him the 54-hole lead. He will chase a fourth European Tour victory in round four and, in addition to the top five, he will fear Tommy Fleetwood, four shots back and on a run of seven sub-68 final rounds.
Revised betting: Perez 3/1, DeChambeau 4/1, Wu 11/2, Lewis 7/1, Kitayama 8/1, Fleetwood 9/1