WASHINGTON: J.J. Spaun birdied two of the last three holes to shoot a two-under par 68 for a one-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the US PGA Tour’s St. Jude Championship.
Spaun tapped in to birdie the par-5 16th and holed a 17-foot birdie putt at the 17th then stood alone at the top after Austrian Sepp Straka missed a nine-foot par putt at the 18th at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee.
The 31-year-old American stood on 13-under 197 through 54 holes with Straka on 198 after shooting 68.
British Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia fired 67 to share third on 199 with Americans Will Zalatoris and Trey Mullinax. Americans Tyler Duncan and Troy Merritt were another stroke adrift.
“I know I’ve got to play better,” Spaun said of the final round. “You look at the names, those guys, major champions and multiple winners and really hot golfers just playing really good.
“I’m just going to give it all I’ve got and hopefully make some more birdies than I did today.”
The tournament opens the FedEx Cup playoffs, three season-ending events with a winner’s prize of $18 million.
Only 125 players qualified on season points and only the top 70 advance to next week’s BMW Championship, where the 30 qualifiers for the Tour Championship in Atlanta are decided.
Spaun won his first PGA title after 147 tour starts in April at the Texas Open while Straka, who missed six consecutive cuts coming into this week, won his first PGA title in February at the Honda Classic.
Spaun began with nine pars before a bogey at 10, but sank an 11-foot birdie putt at the par-3 11th and overtook Straka with his closing surge.
“It was one of those days where I felt like I was going to get lapped,” Spaun said. “In reality I was even par and still tied for the lead for the most part. It kind of helped me be OK with being patient.”
After three birdies and two bogeys in the first seven holes, Straka took the lead alone with a 16-foot birdie putt at the 13th and added a six-foot birdie putt at 15 before Spaun overtook him.
“It was a lot of good, a lot of bad, but overall I’m pretty happy,” Straka said. “I hung in there nicely, got up and down a couple times when I needed to and I was able to convert the few birdies putts I had.”
World number two Smith, facing the distraction of reports on a possible jump to LIV Golf after the playoffs, would become world number one with a victory.
“That would mean a lot,” Smith said. “That has been one of my goals since the start of the year.”
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