Golf fans are used to seeing low scores on the PGA Tour. But the numbers posted on Saturday at the Sony Open in Hawaii were lower collectively than usual. Way lower.
During the third round at Waialae Country Club, a tight par-70 Seth Raynor design, the scoring average for the 73 golfers playing under calm, sunny conditions was 66.66. That translates to the lowest single-round average in a PGA Tour event in 18 years. The last time scores were that red was in 2003 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, where the scoring average during the third round at Indian Wells in La Quinta, Calif., was 66.28.
Brendan Steele took the 54-hole lead on Saturday in Honolulu thanks to nine-under 61. That score was matched by Kevin Na, who was thinking of golf’s holy grail as he faced a 7½-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
“I make birdie here, eagle [on the par-5 18th] and I have a chance for a 59 and how often do you get a chance to for that magic number,” Na said. “It’s definitely in your head. If you’re a professional golfer, it’s in your head. It was fun and exciting. Unfortunately we misread that putt totally but you know what, I made a nice one on 18.”
After “settling” for a 61, Na trails by two entering the final round. Of the top 11 players on the leader board entering Sunday, just one shot a score higher than 65 on Saturday, 36-hole leader Nick Taylor posting 68 and seeing a two-shot lead turn into a four-shot deficit.
Looking for another way to put the round into context? Consider that only three of the 73 competitors failed to shoot par or better on Saturday: Nelson Ledesma (71), Jamie Lovemark (71) and Robert Streb (72).
Players were noting that Waialae, a short golf course by PGA Tour standards at just 7,044 yards, had been firming up on Thursday and Friday. But overnight rains ahead of the third round made the course vulnerable.
With the Sunday forecast calling for potential afternoon showers, causing tour officials to move up tee times to try to get the round in ahead of the bad weather, players understand there’s a simple strategy for how to approach the final round.
“You’re going to have to go low,” said Marc Leishman, who dropped two spots on the leader board Saturday (to T-9) after shooting a five-under 65. “Can’t see Steeley shooting — well, I’ll have to shoot 65 or less to have any sort of chance. Go out and attack and try to make all the putts where I give myself an opportunity and see where it leaves us.”
“Yeah, I am in a good position but it’s what you shoot Sunday,” Na reiterated. “I’m still going to need a low one tomorrow.”