Tony Finau remained on top, but top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain is right on his heels.
Finau shot six-under-par 65 and leads defending champion Rahm, who posted a brilliant tournament record of 61, and Akshay Bhatia of Northridge by two strokes heading to the final round of the Mexico Open at Vidanta on the Vidanta Vallarta Golf Course in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
“The highlight of the round was the chip-in (from 43 feet) on No. 13,” said Finau, who finished one stroke behind Rahm in this tournament last year. “I hit a great chip on No. 12 to get it to tap-in range and then missed the tee shot on 13, so I thought that gave me some nice momentum on a day where I was already hitting it really nicely, but wasn’t getting that much out of my round.
“I think (Rahm’s charge) definitely got my juices going a little bit and was able to make a few birdies coming in to stay in front of him. It was something I expected going into today. He’s an amazing golfer. I play with him a lot and to see him at the top of the leaderboard after only 12 or 13 holes was not a big surprise to me.
“I’ll have to play the same way tomorrow if I want to win.”
Finau, who has five PGA Tour victories including three in the last year, collected seven birdies including three in a row through No. 14, and made his only bogey on the 17th hole before adding his last birdie on the final hole while recording a 54-hole total of 19-under-par 194.
Rahm, who has won six times around the world in the last year, rattled off six birdies on the front nine and added four more coming home in his bogey-free round, but could only manage a par on par-5 finishing hole. He made four putts of 25 feet or longer in his round.
“It was a great round,” said Rahm, who has won four times this season on the PGA Tour this season, including the Masters. “The swings didn’t feel that different today to the first two days. I think I mentioned in a couple interviews that the first two rounds, a couple of the not-so-good swings cost me a little bit too much, right? Either I hit it in a hazard or put myself in a spot where making par was difficult and that’s why I was a little bit out of pace.
“Today, everything just seemed perfect, right? I made a lot of great swings and the ones that weren’t great, still gave me good results. I made a couple of misreads on the 15th and 16th holes, but that’s golf, right? You can’t make them all. But if I putt as well as I did today, I have a chance to win tomorrow.
“I was thinking a little bit about 59 or 60 coming down the last hole, but 61 isn’t a bad score either.”
The 21-year-old Buhai, who has won four times as a pro but not yet on the PGA Tour, sank an eight-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole after making three of his eight birdies in a row through No. 16 while carding a 63.
Said Buhai, who has wrapped up his PGA Tour card for next season: “Today was amazing because I felt very calm and I’m just putting myself more and more in this position. And I know I’m capable of winning–obviously I won on the Korn Ferry Tour—so I know what the feelings are going to be like going into tomorrow.”
Brandon Wu of Danville and Stanford had five birdies against a single bogey in his 67 and is three shots behind in solo fourth, followed one more back in fifth by Will Gordon, who also had a 67, while Austin Smotherman, the first-round leader at 63, is another one down in sixth following a 68 that included three straight birdies on the front nine.
Andrew Putnam of Pepperdine made the last of his three back-nine birdies at No. 18 for a 69 and is eight shots behind in a tie for seventh with Eric Cole, who had four birdies on the front nine in another 69, and Erik van Rooyen of South Africa, who struggled to a 72.
Carson Young posted a bogey-free 65 and is nine strokes behind in a tie for ninth with Ben Taylor, who made five birdies on the back nine in a 66, Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, who shot a bogey-free 67, and Cameron Champ of Sacramento, who made his fifth birdie on the last hole to cap a 69.
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