The Man of Steele: Brendan Steele leads Sony Open by 3

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Man of Steele: Brendan Steele leads Sony Open by 3

PGA Tour

The Man of Steele: Brendan Steele leads Sony Open by 3

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Brendan Steele thrives in windy conditions, which has come in quite handy as gusting winds have turned what is usually a birdie-fest at Waialae Country Club into more of a grind. Steele overcame a sluggish start and played his final 14 holes in 8 under, including birdies on his final three holes, to tie for the low round of the day, 6-under 64, and open up a three-stroke lead over Cameron Smith after 54 holes at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Steele is seeking his fourth PGA Tour title and first since the 2017 Safeway Open.

“I feel like all phases of my game are about as good as they’ve ever been,” Steele told Golf Channel after the third round. “I’m really excited about the trajectory and where things are headed.”

Those confident words pale in contrast to his recent form. Steele, 36, is coming off his worst season on the PGA Tour. He finished 171st on the 2018-19 FedEx Cup standings, and hasn’t recorded a top-10 finish in 38 starts (dating to the 2018 Waste Management Phoenix Open). Much of the blame can be placed squarely on Steele’s flat stick.

Sony Open: Tee times, TV info | Scores | Photos | Updates

“I’ve been working really hard on it for a number of months and I haven’t seen the results that I would’ve liked,” Steele said after the second round, “but I putted pretty well in the fall and worked hard in the short break that we had, and I’ve been really happy with the results so far this week.”

As he should. Steele has canned 42 of 44 putts from inside 10 feet and leads the field in Strokes Gained:Putting (+9.564). He also ranks second in proximity to the hole (27’8″) and first in SG: Approach to the Green (+7.65).

Steele, who has plummeted to No. 403 in the world, overcame two early bogeys at Nos. 3 and 4 to drop out of the lead, but bounced back with a 13-foot birdie at 5 and an 8-foot eagle at the par-5 ninth to card 1-under 34 on his front nine. Then Steele stepped his game up a notch as the howling winds that have wreaked havoc all week at Waialae settled down to a more reasonable level. He tacked on birdies at 11 and 12 to regain the lead and closed with three birdies to become the first and only player to reach double figures this week (despite playing preferred lies during the first three rounds) and finish with a 54-hole total of 12-under 198.

If Steele’s putter has been his friend all week, Kevin Kisner said he felt like he couldn’t buy a putt in the first two rounds.

“I think I made more putts than I have the first two days,” he said of Saturday’s 6-under 64 to climb to 8-under 202.

The South Carolina native wasn’t joking. He poured in 117 feet of putts, which was more than his first two rounds combined. Kisner owns the most rounds of 64 or better at Waialae since the 2016 Sony Open with four, including a 60 in the third round two years ago.

When asked by Golf Channel’s Todd Lews what type of attitude will he bring to the golf course on the final day, Kisner didn’t hesitate: “Probably the same old redneck pretty aggressive guy that I normally am. I’m going to try to make birdie on every hole. That’s what I’ve always done. Sometimes it is to a victory and sometimes it is not.”

Smith, the 26-year-old Aussie who is seeking his first individual Tour title, was stuck in neutral for most of the round until he closed with birdies on his final three holes to card 66. Webb Simpson (67), Collin Morikawa (68) and Ryan Palmer (68) are five back and within striking distance.

“He’s just laying low in the weeds,” Golf Channel’s Paul Azinger said about Simpson, who at No. 12 is the top-ranked player to make the cut.

Graeme McDowell made seven consecutive 3s in round three (Nos. 16 – 4) en route to a 3-under 67, tying the record for consecutive 3s in a round on Tour in the ShotLink era.

Steele, who won his maiden Tour title at the 2011 Valero Texas Open as the 54-hole leader but has failed to convert three 54 holes leads since then, is a savvy enough veteran to know that his three-stroke cushion guarantees him nothing.

“I’ve been out here long enough to know that it’s always difficult and just need to stick with everything that I’m doing and try to keep the pedal down and there will be chances to make birdies tomorrow when you hit good shots and there will be times when you are struggling and have to grind for pars and maybe bogey is even OK,” he said. “So, just keep doing what I’m doing and hope that’s enough.”

 

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