RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico – Chesson Hadley walked off the 18th green at Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico with a scowl on his face after missing an 8-foot birdie putt.
“That’s the most frustrating 5-under round of my life,” Hadley said.
Despite the missed opportunity at the last hole, Hadley converted enough putts to shoot a bogey-free 67 and grab the 54-hole lead by one shot over Danny Lee at the Puerto Rico Open.
“I like his position right now,” said Hadley’s wife, Amanda.
On a day with little wind, Hadley made four birdies on the front nine. He got up and down at the par-5 second hole for birdie, then knocked a wedge to 12 feet and holed the putt at the third to take the lead for the first time. He tacked on another birdie on the par-5 fifth hole, and drilled a 30-footer into the heart of the cup at the sixth. On the back side, Hadley continued to hit greens – 17 of 18 for the day – but his putter cooled off. He took 30 putts in all.
This marks the first time the PGA Tour rookie has led after any round. Hadley did play in the final pairing of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas with eventual winner Webb Simpson and said he learned from the experience.
“I didn’t get off to a great start. I was a little shaky,” Hadley said. “Tomorrow, it will be huge for me to get off to a fast start. There will be some pressure I’ve never felt before. But I’m going to fire at every pin tomorrow. I’m going to try to make a lot of birdies. There’s 10-under out there. So I have to stay aggressive.”
Here are 5 Things to know from Puerto Rico:
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1. THIS GAME IS A SNAP: If you haven’t seen Hadley play yet, you’ve missed one of the most charismatic young players to join the Tour in some time. If Tiger Woods is known for his fist pump, Hadley, 26, has the patent on the finger snap. He’s been celebrating big putts with this signature move since his Georgia Tech days, he said.
“It’s my fist bump,” he said. “It’s my way of saying, ‘Boom. Get me some.’ ”
One of the key moments of the round for Hadley came at the 13th when his tee shot sailed left and ended up near the hazard. He rolled up his pants, took off his shoes and socks and stood in ankle-deep water. Hadley gouged it out with a steep swing, and his ball landed near the front of the green. Equally impressive: he didn’t even get a spot on his white pants. From there, Hadley chipped to 8 feet and canned the putt. Then it was time to celebrate with a snap, crackle and pop.
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2. VICTORY DROUGHT: Several seasoned veterans are positioned to taste victory again. Jerry Kelly, 47, carded a second consecutive 67 and is three strokes off the lead. Kelly has three career Tour titles but none since 2009.
“My game is real close right now,” he said. “Maybe it will all come together tomorrow.”
Kelly is tied at 13 under with David Toms, 47, a 13-time Tour winner, and Carl Pettersson, 36, a five-time winner who last celebrated victory in 2012. One stroke better is Jonathan Byrd, 36, who captured his fifth title at the 2011 Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Byrd shot a bogey-free 67 Saturday, his third straight round in the 60s, capitalizing on birdies on all four of the par 5s.
“It’s easy on a Saturday, if you don’t get off to a hot start, to feel like everyone’s passing you,” Byrd said. “I’d be hard-pressed to say I’m not pleased with where I am. I haven’t been here a ton lately, but maybe I’ve still got one more low round in me this week.”
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3. LET’S GO STREAKING: Jason Gore was moving the wrong way on moving day. Gore tumbled down the leaderboard early with a three-putt bogey at the first and another bogey on the par-5 second hole. He toured the front in 37 and made par on the 10th and 11th holes. Then he discovered the zone and strung together seven birdies in a row, matching the longest streak on Tour this year (Troy Matteson at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open).
The back-nine 29 got rolling at the 12th hole. “Standing in 12 fairway I just had a perfect number, and I looked at my caddie and I was like, ‘All right, Let’s get down to work here,’ ” Gore recalled. “Hit it (to) like 15 feet and made it and then just kind of got it going after that. For posterity, Gore described the birdies like this:
- Par-4 12th hole: Poured in a 12-foot putt.
- Par-4 13th hole: Knocked a pitching wedge to 1 foot.
- Par-4 14th hole: 9 iron to 4 feet and curled in the right-to-left breaker.
- Par-5 15th hole: Chipped his third to 1 foot.
- Par-3 16th hole: 8 iron tee shot to 4 feet.
- Par-4 17th hole: Stuck a short iron to 3 feet.
- Par-5 18th hole: Rolled in an 8-foot putt.
“Just hit a lot of good quality, close shots,” Gore said.
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4. IT FEELS LIKE HOME: Don’t look now but George McNeill, the winner of the 2012 Puerto Rico Open, is in the hunt again. McNeill posted a 68 in the third round to climb to 12 under and T-8. What’s his secret to Trump International Golf Club Puerto Rico? “It just feels like home,” said McNeill, a Fort Myers, Fla., resident. “Grass is the same. Weather is the same. You know, we all like to play the courses where we play well, and for whatever reason this is the one for me.”
It helps that McNeill is healthy again after missing the first three events at the start of 2014 with a broken left collarbone.
How did he suffer the injury? Well, that’s a story in itself. In early December, McNeill rolled a golf cart riding home from a friend’s house in his community.
“I wasn’t doing anything crazy, just driving home around 7:30 p.m. at night and someone had left some brush with logs underneath it on the sidewalk and I couldn’t see it,” McNeill said.
The cart flipped, landed on him and pinned him underneath for nearly 20 minutes until someone rode by on his bicycle. McNeill spent a lot of time at the gym, rehabbing, and said he feels no ill effects. McNeill returned at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and has regained his form in his past two events: a T-6 at the Northern Trust Open and T-12 at the Honda Classic.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Gore hasn’t won since the 2005 84 Lumber Classic and hasn’t had a top-10 finish since the 2009 U.S Bank Open in Milwaukee. . . . Danny Lee (15 under) trails by one. He has only one top-10 finish in 52 career starts, a T-7 at the 2009 AT&T National. . . . Puerto Rico’s Rafa Campos shot a 67 to improve to 6 under (T-42). This marks the third time he has made the cut in this event. . . . Campos is paired with John Daly, who also shot 67 in the third round. . . . Thirteen players shot bogey-free rounds; 36-hole leader James Driscoll wasn’t one of them. A day after tying the course record of 63, he made no birdies and dropped 19 places (T-20) with a 75. . . . Jose Coceres, a two-time Tour winner, shot 73 and was among nine golfers who failed to make the secondary cut. He failed to make his medical exemption and will be relegated to the past-champions category on Tour. Coceres, who turned 50 in August, is eligible for the Champions Tour, where he made one start last season.