ARIZONA – Rickie Fowler birdied his last three holes to seize a one-stroke lead over world number two Jon Rahm and two others on Saturday at the Phoenix Open.
Fowler, who shared the overnight lead with Bryson DeChambeau, rolled a nine-foot birdie putt into the heart of the cup at the 18th hole of TPC Scottsdale to move atop the jammed leaderboard, firing a four-under 67 for 14-under 199.
Rahm, chasing Dustin Johnson’s world number one ranking, carded a six-under par 65 and was joined on 200 by DeChambeau, who signed for a 68 and Chez Reavie, who carded a 67.
Five-time major winner Phil Mickelson carded a 66 to head a group on 201. He was tied with reigning Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele (66) and Daniel Berger (68).
Six more players were just three off the pace on 202.
World number seven Fowler, whose history of strong showings in Phoenix include a runner-up finish in 2010 and a playoff loss to Hideki Matsuyama in 2016, was rewarded for his patience with a sizzling finish to the day.
“It was a grind,” said Fowler, who was one-over for the day after a bogey at the fourth before his first birdie of the day at the eighth – where he was in a fairway bunker.
“Just a little off in certain areas, (I) just tried to kind of piece things together,” Fowler said. “We took advantage of the last few holes, but that is the biggest scoring opportunity on the golf course.”
Not everyone could capitalise.
DeChambeau, seeking his second tour victory, was 14-under after three straight birdies at 13, 14, and 15, but he gave a stroke back at 17 where he was in the water off the tee.
Rahm, seeking a fifth worldwide title in the last year and his second US tour victory in three weeks, was two-under through nine and responded to a bogey at the 10th with birdies at 11, 13, 15 and 16.
“It’s going to take a lot of birdies,” Rahm said of what will be required to win on Sunday.
He said he’d try to shut out thoughts of the number one ranking, which he admitted got to him in a disappointing finish at Torrey Pines last week.
“I’m trying to focus on right here, right now, more than focusing on the win,” he said.
Mickelson, who also played college golf in Arizona and is a three-time Phoenix Open winner, is another fan favorite at the always raucous tournament.
The 47-year-old is seeking his 43rd PGA Tour title, and his first title since the 2013 British Open.
“To have a crowd like this behind you, you really feel that energy,” said Mickelson, who said he’s also benefiting from off-season work with the driver.
“For me to not give away shots off the tee the way I have in the past has been very beneficial,” said Mickelson, who had five birdies without a bogey, finishing birdie-birdie.
Justin Thomas, the 2017 PGA Tour Player of the Year, got off to a dream start with six birdies to open his round.
But it devolved into a nightmare that included three bogeys, a triple-bogey and a double-bogey and his even par 71 left him eight strokes adrift.
“Shocked. Speechless,” Thomas said. “That pretty much sums it up.”