HONOLULU – Two swings were all it took for Hayden Buckley to become another face in a large crowd of contenders to a two-shot lead Saturday in the Sony Open.
On a day when there was an eight-way tie for the lead at one point, Buckley made a pair of eagles on the back nine at Waialae that carried him to a second straight 6-under 64 and allowed him at least a little separation.
One of them was a wedge from 133 yards that he thought he tugged to a left pin at No. 10, the third-easiest hole on the course. Instead, it turned out perfectly.
“It was nice to see that,” Buckley said. “I did pull it a little bit and wasn’t sure where it was going to land.”
The other was among his best swings of the day, a 5-iron from 221 yards that rolled up to 2 feet to the front left pin on the par-5 18th hole.
Otherwise, it was a steady diet of pars and the occasional birdie on a course where the fairways are running fast.
“We did exactly what we were trying to do and got away with two shots, had two big eagles,” Buckley said. “Our game plan stays the same. If we play well enough, that’s great. If not, we just deal with it.”
He was at 15-under 195 as Buckley goes for his first PGA Tour title in his second full year, and he's not alone in that regard.
He will be in the final group with David Lipsky (66) and Ben Taylor (65), neither of whom have won on the PGA Tour. Lipsky has won on the Asian Tour, the Sunshine Tour, the European tour and the Korn Ferry Tour.
Nine of the leading 15 players at Waialae are going for their first PGA Tour win.
Chris Kirk also was two shots behind. He began the third round with a one-shot lead and good vibes because of his runner-up finish two years ago that enabled him to keep full status on tour. His first shot sailed toward the houses down the right side of the first fairways, out-of-bounds and leading to a double bogey.
He was otherwise solid from there, though he missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th that would have put him in the final group.
Kirk has four PGA Tour wins, but the last one was at Colonial in 2015. It felt like a win two years ago at Waialae. He had stepped away from golf to treat alcoholism and depression, and his 65 on the final day at the Sony Open to tie for second was enough for him to retain full status.
So he wasn't sure he had an advantage because of winning experience.
“If I had won three weeks ago maybe,” Kirk said. “But it’s been a little while. I definitely know what it takes, but also know it’s not easy to do. But I definitely like where I’m at. I like the way my golf game feels. Obviously, I'm very comfortable and love this place, so I’m excited for the opportunity against these guys that haven’t won. Most of them are probably 15 years I younger than me.”
Kirk wasn't the only player with a slow start. Lipsky's opening drive went left, and bounced along the cement path right of the driving range until it settled outside the white stakes. He managed to limit the damage to a bogey when he made a 25-foot putt. He followed that by taking two chips to get onto the second green for another bogey, and then he had seven birdies the rest of the way.
“It's never ideal when your ball goes 50 yards down the path OB,” Lipsky said. “I'm pretty happy with how I played and how I handled those first two holes.”
While the third round wasn't a bizarre as Friday — Jordan Spieth went from a share of the lead to missing the cut, Rory Sabbatini was one off the lead until three straight double bogeys — there was enough to realize 18 more holes might feel like a marathon to those trying to win for the first time.
S.H. Kim, the rookie from South Korea, ran off four straight birdies to take the lead at the turn. And then on the 10th hole, the third easiest at Waialae, he had 124 yards from the middle of the fairway and made double bogey — an approach that bounded over the green, a chip to 30 feet and three putts.
Byeong Hun An had a 66 and was tied for 16th, six shots behind. That includes his quadruple-bogey 8 on the 10th hole after his drive was in the middle of the fairway, 87 yards from the hole. An went long going after a back pin, muffed a chip, twice had a wedge slide under the ball sitting in thick grass. It was a mess.
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