Lee Hodges is playing like he is accustomed to being on top, which he is not.
The 28-year-old Hodges, who is winless on the PGA Tour, has led virtually all the way and shot five-under-par 66 to build a five-stroke lead over J.T. Poston heading to the final round of the 3M Open at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn.
Most players in the field are trying to improve their positions in the FedEx Cup standings because the 70 on the list after the regular-season finale Wyndham Championship next week will advance to the opener of the PGA Tour playoffs, the FedEx St. Jude Championship, the following week.
After that, the top 50 will make the field for the BMW Championship, and only the top 30 will advance to the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
“It was pretty similar to the first two days, except that I didn’t putt very well on the front nine,” said Hodges, whose only professional victory came in the 2020 WinCo Foods Portland Open on the Korn Ferry Tour, and who couldn’t hold the 54-hole lead in The American Express last season and tied for third. “But then my putter heated up on the back nine and I made a bunch of birdies.
“When I held the lead after the third round last year, I made the mistake of playing a little conservatively and just going for pars. I’m not going to do that tomorrow because there are so many good players behind me and I know they will be making plenty of birdies and trying to go low, so I have to do the same thing in order to win.
“But I am playing very well right now and have a lot of confidence going into tomorrow.”
Hodges, who shot 63-64 in the first two rounds and led after each day, made two birdies and two bogeys on the front nine before reeling off five birdies on the back nine to record a 54-hole score of 20-under-par 193.
Poston carded his third straight 66 by playing bogey-free and making two birdies on the last three holes, while defending champion Tony Finau after opening with 66-66, made four birdies on the back nine in his 67 and is six shots back in solo third, and Aaron Baddeley of Australia, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, is one more down in fourth after collecting seven birdies in a 65.
“We play some practice rounds together and I know (Hodges) really well,” said Poston, who won the 2019 Wyndham and the 2022 John Deere Classic for his only pro victories. “He’s a good friend. So, if I can’t get it done tomorrow, I’ll be pulling for him.
“I really hit the ball good today and feel like I had a lot of control of my golf ball, which is always nice. Another bogey-free round, so again, it’s just been really solid. For tomorrow, I’ll try and do the same thing and hopefully get more putts to drop, because I think I’m going to need a low one.”
Said Finau, who has won six times on the PGA Tour: “It was just nice to make a run on the back nine today simply to give myself a chance tomorrow. If I’m eight back, that’s a whole different feeling than five or six. I was just happy with the way I finished my round today and to creep up and just be a little closer to the lead.
“But Lee is playing some great golf and guys are going to really have to go low tomorrow if anybody is going to catch him. But I love this golf course and I just hope that I can win here again. Those last few holes can be pretty crazy and a lot can happen.”
Sam Ryder, who has won twice on lower tours but not on the PGA Tour, collected nine birdies including five in a row to end his 65 and is eight behind in a tie for fifth with Keith Mitchell, who made three late birdies in a 67, Billy Horschel, who birdied the first three holes of the back nine and two of the last three for a 68, and Kevin Streelman, who birdied two of the last three holes to shoot 69.
Nick Hardy, who teamed with Davis Riley to win the team event Zurich Classic of New Orleans in April, had four birdies on the back nine in a 67 to wind up nine shots back in a tie for ninth with Tyler Duncan, who birdied two of the last three holes to salvage a 71.
Kevin Yu of Taiwan birdied eight of nine holes through No. 11 and shot six-under-par 29 on the front nine, but made three bogeys the rest of the way to card a 67 and is tied for 11th.
For complete results, FedEx Cup standings and final-round tee times, visit: https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard