Eckroat Leads Van Rooyen by One Shot in the Rain-Delayed Cognizant Classic

Austin Eckroat is atop the leaderboard, but knows there is plenty of work left.

The 25-year-old Eckroat, who is seeking his first professional victory, birdied two of his seven holes before darkness halted play and holds a one-stroke lead over Erik van Rooyen of South Africa in the rain-delayed 52nd version of what is now the Cognizant Classic in the Palm Beaches on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

Play was halted for three and a half hours by rain in the middle of the day and 26 players were still on the course when the end came on Sunday evening. They will return early Monday to complete the final round and see if there might possibly be a playoff with so many players stacked at the top.

“It was just a weird day,” said Eckroat, who was tied for the 36-hole lead. “Mother Nature, there’s nothing you can do about it. I almost didn’t think we were going to play at all for the rest of the day and kind of shut off for a little bit and then had to get back into competitive mode.

“I don’t really know if I’ve had this type of situation like this where I’ve had the lead over however many holes we’ve played, what it, 63 holes    , and then had to wait overnight to finish. I don’t think I’ve ever been in this situation.”

Eckroat, who started with scores of 65-67-68, made birdies on the fourth and fifth holes to go with five pars to remain on top of the leaderboard.

Van Rooyen birdied the first holes and eight of the first 10 en route to an eight-under-par 63, while Jake Knapp of Costa Mesa and UCLA, who claimed his first PGA Tour victory last week in the Mexico Open at Vidanta, was two shots back in third after collecting three birdies on each nine to go five-under-par through 15 holes.

“Being that far back to start the round, you know you have to make a run at it,” said Van Rooyen, 34, who has claimed two of his six pro victories on the PGA Tour. “The course is playing so soft right now because of the rain.

“Getting off to a great start was awesome, but the rain delay probably didn’t help me very much. I had so much momentum at the time. I think it’ll be a good idea to keep an eye on it to see if I have a chance to win.”

Shane Lowry of Ireland, who shared the third-round lead, made four pars and a bogey in five holes and is three down in a tie for fourth with Alex Noren of Sweden, who made a five-foot eagle putt on the third hole and was four-under through 12 holes, Billy Horschel, who made six straight birdies through No. 13 and was five-under-par through 17 holes, and Keith Mitchell, who collected five birdies on the front nine in a 65.

David Skinns of England, another 54-hole co-leader, was two-over-par through five holes and was in a big tie for eighth with Tyson Alexander, who shot a bogey-free 66, Doug Ghim, who also shot 66); Garrick Higgo of South Africa (who eagled No. 2 and was three-under-par through 17 holes); Cameron Young (who also was three-under through 17); Nico Echevarria of Colombia (who was three-under-par through13); Kevin Yu of Taiwan, who was one-under through eight), and Martin Laird of Scotland (who was one-under through seven holes).

Second-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who won this tournament in 2012, mad three birdies on the back nine in a 68 and was in a tie for 18th that included ninth-ranked Matt Fitzpatrick of England, who posted a bogey-free 67, while defending champion Chris Kirk was tied for 28th after kick-starting 65 with four straight birdies.  

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