Xander Schauffele put his game in reverse on moving day at the CJ Cup. As a result, he brought a host of players into contention at Shadow Creek Golf Course.
The prime beneficiary was Russell Henley, who shot a bogey-free 67 Saturday and will take a three-shot lead over Schauffele, Lanto Griffin, Talor Gooch and Jason Kokrak into Sunday’s final round.
And if they should falter, major championship winners Justin Thomas, Jason Day, Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson are one great round away from the title.
“I putted really well today,” said Henley, who is at 15-under 201. “I left myself in some good spots to make some birdies and had some really nice par saves and scrambled well. I did a lot of good things.”
Henley made his move in the middle of the round, making birdies on Nos. 10, 11 and 12. He never came close to making bogey and has just two through 54 holes.
“I just feel like some putts this week are going in. I’m thankful,” he said.
One day after Schauffele threatened to run away with the tournament with a run of six straight birdies on his way to a 64, he was 10 shots worse on Saturday. He hit just nine greens in regulation and made only one putt longer than 8 feet.
“Not to be a sour person, but it was just one of those days,” Schauffele said. “Today was my bad day for the week. Got it out of the way before Sunday.”
He now needs to call on experience to win his fifth PGA Tour title in four years. He has come from behind in the final round in all of them.
“It’s all part of my master plan,” he said jokingly. “I just had to get behind here, back in my comfortable place and looking forward to tomorrow.”
Griffin had the most impressive round going among the leaders until his drive on the 18th hole found the water, leading to his only bogey and a 66.
He gave all credit to his putter, something that surprised even him after missing the cut last week at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
“I felt totally lost with putting last week,” he said. But a visit from his short-game coach Thursday turned things around at Shadow Creek. “The putter feels completely different than last week.”
Griffin, whose lone victory came last October in Houston, hopes to draw on that experience Sunday.
“It gives you the confidence to know you can do it,” he said. “But winning in Houston’s not going to help me hit the first tee shot tomorrow or help me make any putts.”
Kokrak is hoping a little home-field advantage will help him get his first win after eight years on the PGA Tour. Kokrak is an ambassador for MGM Resorts and has played more than 70 rounds at Shadow Creek as part of that role.
“Being at this golf course a bunch, knowing the greens fairly well (is key),” he said.
Watson was in the first group off, and he posted the day’s low round (65) after birdies on five of his final six holes. He joins McIlroy in a pack of players at 8 under.
“It was a good round today. I played better,” McIlroy said of his 66. “I did what I wanted to do, and that’s all I can ask for.”
Henley has three wins on the PGA Tour, but hasn’t lifted a trophy in more than three years. Since his last win in Houston in 2017, he has become a father to two children, and that has changed his perspective about his job.
“I don’t have to have this,” he said. “I love to play. I love to practice and compete. But at the end of the day, I don’t have to do well. To go home, my 2-year-old son doesn’t know what I shot today even if it’s an 85.”
That doesn’t mean the fire to win again isn’t burning inside. And he knows there will be plenty of players gunning for him Sunday.
“Yeah, anybody can come at me,” he said. “You can go low out here, and the greens are gettable, but you’ve got to play well to do that. You’ve got to do everything well. I’ve just got to keep my head down and play a good round for me.”
Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org