Berger in full control entering final round at Honda Classic

Feb 26, 2022, 1:07 AM | Updated: 3:54 pm
Daniel Berger hits from the gallery off the third green during the third round of the Honda Classic...

Daniel Berger hits from the gallery off the third green during the third round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

(AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Daniel Berger wasn’t flawless. He just kept avoiding big problems, which almost nobody has managed to do at PGA National this week.

That’s why he remains the leader of the Honda Classic.

Berger started with a three-shot lead and ended with a five-shot advantage, after his round of 1-under 69 moved him 18 holes away from winning a tournament a 15-minute drive from his home.

“I’ve played some great golf, but the challenge is still ahead, 18 more holes,” Berger said. “I’ve got to stay focused on playing another great round tomorrow and if I can do that then I’ll be holding the trophy at the end of the day.”

Shane Lowry (67), Chris Kirk (71), Sepp Straka (69) and first-round leader Kurt Kitayama (71) were tied for second at 6 under.

Only 13 of the 73 players who made the cut shot below par Saturday. Nobody went low, and unless Berger starts making many mistakes, somebody is going to have to on Sunday in order to deny him a fifth PGA Tour victory.

Lowry had the day’s best round — and that was just 3 under.

“I’ve drove the ball in play and I’ve managed to putt pretty good,” Lowry said. “My putting felt pretty average at the start of the week. I found something as the week went on.”

He needs to find something more.

Or more specifically, hope that Berger misplaces something.

“Obviously, you want to go out and catch him tomorrow, but I don’t think you can go and catch anyone on this golf course,” Lowry said. “You just need to do your thing and shoot the best score you can and hopefully it will be somewhere near good enough.”

Andrew Kozan, Curtis Thompson, Billy Horschel and Kevin Streelman all shot 68s on Saturday, though in all four cases, that simply meant just getting to even par for the week and nowhere near Berger.

“It played a lot tougher today,” Kitayama said.

There were hints that Berger might come back to the pack, starting from his first tee shot of the day when he pulled the ball into the left rough. The left rough awaited him on No. 4 as well, as did a greenside bunker on No. 7.

He saved par each time, and again on No. 10, when he two-putted from 65 feet to keep the card flawless. The only mistake came on the last, his lone bogey of the day.

Kirk was the closest for a while, just three shots back as he headed to the par-4 14th. But a trip into the trees led to a double-bogey, and Berger backed off his putt before coolly rolling in a 5-footer to save par yet again.

Armed with a five-shot lead, Berger went for it at the par-3 15th, the start of the three-hole stretch known as the “Bear Trap” that typically frowns on aggression. He went at the flag, kept the ball below the wind and watched it settle 7 feet from the hole.

The birdie putt was center-cut, getting him to 12 under — six shots ahead of the nearest challengers at that moment.

“I have to play great golf tomorrow to have a chance to win,” Berger insisted.

Kozan was perhaps the day’s biggest success story. He waited 12 hours to play four shots, then played 68 more shots in the next three hours or so.

Kozan stopped play on the par-5 18th fairway Friday night because of darkness, a wise move since he needed par to make the cut. After five hours of sleep, he was at the course by 5:40 a.m. Saturday to warm up and resumed play at 6:47. He used a couple short irons to get to the green from about 260 yards out, then two-putted for the par that allowed him to make his first PGA Tour cut.

That was at 6:59. At 7:35, he teed off in a solo group to begin the third round and at 10:51, he rolled in a 4-footer for birdie to end a third round of 2 under 68.

“Nothing to lose,” Kozan said.

And quite a bit to gain.

Kozan’s biggest check as a pro so far is $29,333 for finishing second last year at the Korn Ferry Tour’s qualifying school. He could top that Sunday; anyone finishing alone in 43rd or better at the Honda is assured at least $30,000, and Kozan was tied for 19th.

DIVOTS: The Honda winner has held at least a share of the lead after 54 holes on 10 of the previous 15 events at PGA National. … Brooks Koepka shot a 1-over 71, moving to 1 over for the week. … Aaron Rai’s second shot at the par-3 15th was from the sand, rolled across the green and nearly went in the water. He might have been better off if it did. Rai’s ball stopped on the rocky ledge above the water, so he returned to the bunker to replay the sand shot. It took two more swings to escape the sand, and he made an 8-footer for triple bogey.


More AP golf: and

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Portland Thorns midfielder Olivia Moultrie celebrates after scoring a penalty kick against the Hous...
Associated Press

Olivia Moultrie proud of stand she took to play in NWSL

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — It’s been a little more than a year since Olivia Moultrie signed with the Portland Thorns after suing to join the National Women’s Soccer League at just 15 years old. For Moultrie, the lasting lesson of her legal odyssey is that women should have the same opportunities to reach the top […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Alex Palou, of Spain, waits in his pits during qualifications for an IndyCar auto race at In...
Associated Press

Column: Palou persevering through Ganassi contract chaos

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The conversation, if one could even call it that, might not have lasted even 10 seconds. It was more of an exchange between Chip Ganassi, who took a moment to congratulate Alex Palou, the driver he is suing because the IndyCar champion is trying to leave his team at the end […]
16 hours ago
Serena Williams, of the United States, returns the ball during a match with Nuria Parrizas-Diaz, of...
Associated Press

Serena Williams earns first win of season in Toronto

TORONTO (AP) — Serena Williams earned her first win in more than a year Monday, beating Nuria Parrizas-Diaz 6-3, 6-4 at the women’s National Bank Open. It’s just the second tournament of the season for the 40-year-old Williams, who returned to competition at Wimbledon just over a month ago. The 23-time Grand Slam champion fell […]
16 hours ago
Kevin Harvick celebrates with his daughter Piper after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at t...
Associated Press

Harvick win complicates NASCAR playoff spots in final weeks

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — NASCAR just got more interesting down the stretch. Kevin Harvick won his first Cup race in nearly two years at Michigan International Speedway over the weekend — a result that could mean a driver who has a win getting knocked out of the playoffs. “It creates a big bubble,” Harvick said […]
16 hours ago
FILE - Baseball Hall of Famer and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Dennis Eckersley applauds during pr...
Associated Press

Hall of Famer Eckersley to leave Red Sox booth after season

BOSTON (AP) — Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley said Monday that he will be leaving the Boston Red Sox broadcasts at the end of the season, his 50th in Major League Baseball. Eckersley, who was drafted by Cleveland as a California high schooler in 1972, went on to pitch 24 seasons as both a […]
2 days ago
Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks during NCAA college football Southeastern Conference Media Day...
Associated Press

Alabama No. 1 in preseason coaches’ poll; Ohio St. 2, UGA 3

Alabama was voted No. 1 in the preseason USA Today coaches’ poll released Monday, with Ohio State second and defending national champion Georgia third. The Associated Press preseason Top 25 will be released Aug. 15. The Crimson Tide received 54 first-place votes from a panel of 66 major college football coaches. Alabama is coming off […]
2 days ago
Berger in full control entering final round at Honda Classic