POTOMAC, Md. (AP)Keegan Bradley did nothing special on the only easy scoring day this week at the Wells Fargo Championship, opening with an even-par 70 that left him around the cut line.
Since the conditions got tougher, Bradley has been the best player at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.
Bradley shot the lowest score for the second straight day Saturday, a 3-under 67 that gave him a three-day total of 8-under 202 and a two-shot lead over Max Homa in British Open weather on a U.S. Open-style course.
About 2 inches of rain has fallen since Friday morning, yet the low-lying course near the Potomac River has held up well enough to avoid any delays in play. Temperatures dropped into the low 40s Fahrenheit on Saturday.
”It felt like a Patriots playoff game out there in December,” said Bradley, who grew up in New England. ”It was fun, but I’m glad to be done.”
Bradley was one of four players to shoot in the 60s. The scoring average was 73.7, the highest relative to par on the PGA Tour since the final round of the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot.
Although he has only one win in the past nine years, the 35-year-old Bradley has been solid recently, with top-10 finishes in three of his last five events, including fifth at the Players Championship during another week of bad weather.
The eye-popping number for a player whose putter has held him back: Bradley ranks second in the field this week in putting by the PGA Tour’s ”strokes gained” metric. His key makes on Saturday: 14 feet for birdie on the par-3 ninth hole, 21 feet for birdie on the tough par-4 11th, 9 feet for birdie on the 16th and, finally, 8 feet to save par after going bunker-to-bunker on the closing hole.
”Today and yesterday were just really good ball-striking and really good putting. It’s rare that we match those up and I’ve matched that up these last two days,” Bradley said. ”If I can just keep that going a little bit, I’ll like my chances.”
A win by Bradley would move him into the top 60 in the world, making him exempt for the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.
”It’s on my mind,” he said. ”I know what’s at stake.”
Jason Day’s retooled swing couldn’t hold up for a third straight day. The leader after 18 and 36 holes, Day began struggling with his driver before it spilled over to the rest of the bag. He found the same pond on consecutive holes – a driver that never crossed dry land on the par-4 fourth, leading to triple bogey, and a 3-wood that hooked violently on the fifth.
Day appeared to lose his grip on the club when he hit another hook into a water hazard with his second shot on the par-5 10th, even though he had half a dozen gloves hanging from the ribs of his umbrella. He shot 79 to fall seven shots off the lead.
”Unfortunately I just didn’t have my stuff today,” Day said. ”I made a lot of errors out there and hitting into penalty areas. It’s OK. I’ve just got to get back to it tomorrow and try and find some positives.”
Homa shot a steady 71 while playing partners Day and Luke List struggled, finding fairways and hitting conservative approach shots for routine pars. He went from trailing Day by two to leading by two in a span of two holes that he played in even par. But consecutive bogeys on the back nine allowed Bradley to pass him.
The day’s second-best score belonged to Rory McIlroy, who made the cut on the number and played on the opposite side of the course from the leaders. The highest-ranked player in the field at No. 7, McIlroy bogeyed his first two holes, made four birdies before the turn and closed with nine straight pars for a 68 that moved him into a tie for sixth at 2 under.
”I think when you see conditions like this, you have to have a pretty upbeat attitude towards it and for me it was just grateful to be here,” McIlroy said.
Anirban Lahiri shot 70 and was four shots back alongside James Hahn (72), a former champion of this event at its regular home, Quail Hollow, which is taking this year off because it’s hosting the Presidents Cup in September. Matt Fitzpatrick was 3 under after a 71.
”It feels like I’ve just gone 12 rounds in a pro boxing match,” Lahiri said. ”You’re fighting everything. You’re fighting your body, the elements, the water, the cold, the conditions. Yeah, it’s tough work and you just have to grit your teeth and kind of grind it out.”
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