La QUINTA, Calif. –– Whatever drama might have unfolded in the Humana Challenge seems to have evaporated in the desert sun. Patrick Reed posted a third consecutive 63 to open a seven-stroke lead Saturday. The winner sure seems to be predetermined entering the final round at PGA West.
But it’s the PGA Tour, and anything can happen on any given Sunday, right?
For the record, the largest come-from-behind victory occurred in the 1999 Open Championship, when Paul Lawrie came from 10 strokes back after 54 holes to win the Claret Jug after Jean Van de Velde’s infamous 72nd-hole triple-bogey meltdown.
But that was a major championship, with a major setup, and this is the birdie fest known as the Humana Challenge.
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1. PROHIBITIVE FAVORITE: Patrick Reed enters the final round with a seven-shot lead, which on the PGA Tour historically has been almost insurmountable.
The last time that happened on the PGA Tour was last year at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when Tiger Woods held a seven-shot lead and won by seven after shooting an even-par 70.
For Reed, an even-par 72 could get it done, but he likely would need to go a little lower to keep the dreamers behind him from having any hope.
“I’m going to treat tomorrow as if it’s Monday qualifier,” Reed said after his round Saturday. “Eighteen-hole shootout. Everybody’s tied at even par, and hopefully I can go out and do the same thing I’ve done the past three days.”
Reed’s entries in the Tour record books:
- 27-under score broke the 54-hole mark in relation to par of 25 under held previously by Steve Stricker, Gay Brewer, Pat Perez and Ernie Els.
- first player to shoot three opening rounds of 63 or better
- 189 score is the lowest 54-hole total in Humana Challenge history
- seven-stroke lead is largest cushion entering the final round of the Humana Challenge.
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2. OPTIMISM: Charley Hoffman has done little wrong in shooting 64-66-66 yet finds himself seven strokes off Reed’s sizzling pace. Yet, Hoffman, minus his signature long blond locks, thinks he has a chance in Sunday’s final round.
Hoffman in outlining the fallacy that Reed was beyond reach started with the fact that you can make a ton of birdies at the Palmer Private course at PGA West.
When Reed played the Palmer Course, he made nine birdies and no bogeys in shooting the first of three 63s this week.
On a course with so much water in play, Hoffman noted that bogeys are possible.
But Reed has made only two bogeys in 54 holes, racking up 25 birdies and two eagles. That’s not the kind of game that would lend itself to many water balls – at least not this week.
However, compounding the pressure for the front-runner is that if the round should start slowly – or worse – the contenders could close the gap.
Those are all legitimate points, but at some point Hoffman’s optimism turned to reality.
“It’s his tournament; there’s no question,” Hoffman conceded. “If he goes out there and makes a few birdies on the front nine and makes some pars on the back, I mean, that makes me shoot 9 under if he only shoots 2 under to even have a chance at a playoff, which was a pretty fantastic round.”
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3. CHALLENGER IN NAME ONLY: Brendon Todd, tied for second with Hoffman at 20 under, intends to shoot a very low number and put some pressure on Reed. In reality, whatever Todd does, his chance at victory will be determined largely by Reed.
“I shot 9 under there yesterday,” Todd said. “If you go out there with the same mentality, trying to play as well as you can, you get hot early, put a little pressure on him, there’s plenty of opportunities for him to make bogey. So that’s the goal.”
So like Hoffman, Todd knows that practically no matter how low he goes, he needs help from Reed.
But he also understands that he needs to do what got him in the position initially.
“I actually need to stay relaxed and just keep going through my routine every hole, trying to give myself a lot of birdie chances,” Todd said. “That’s what I’ve done the first three days.”
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4. MOVING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION: Ryan Palmer started the day in third place, at 15 under, just three shoots off Reed’s lead.
But that would be as close as he would get. After a 2-under 70, Palmer is now 10 shots back, tied for seventh and clearly playing for position Sunday.
“Today was absolutely disgusting,” Palmer said. “I’m talking about 4-, 5-, 6‑footers all day long. I hit the ball OK, but I settled with 2 under.”
Yet in the next breath, Palmer recovered and found the positive.
“But that’s good going into tomorrow that I didn’t hurt myself too bad,” Palmer said. “I guess, but it will be a couple shots for second, so we’ll go play that golf tournament tomorrow.”
5. SHORT SHOTS: Eighty-four players made the 54-hole cut that fell at 9 under. . . . Defending champion Brian Gay missed the cut, shooting 7 under. . . . The Palmer Private has a cumulative scoring average of 69.129 with the Nicklaus Private at 68.819 and La Quinta Country Club at 69.768. . . .Leader Patrick Reed, Charley Hoffman and Brendon Todd tee off at 10:30 a.m. PST.