Harris English fired five birdies in a five-under par 65 on Saturday to maintain a two-shot lead over hard-charging Bryson DeChambeau and Cameron Smith in the WGC-St. Jude Invitational.
English, seeking a third US PGA Tour title of the season, stayed on course to become the first player this year to post a wire-to-wire victory on the US tour, his birdies at the 16th and 17th pushing him back into the lead after he spent the day neck and neck first with Mexico’s Abraham Ancer and then with DeChambeau.
DeChambeau, trying to bounce back after the bitter disappointment of missing the Tokyo Olympics after testing positive for Covid-19, had eight birdies in a seven-under par 63 at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tennessee.
The sixth-ranked American — who could also notch a third win of the season — started the day four adrift but was two under on the front nine after three birdies and a bogey.
DeChambeau caught fire coming home, rolling in a five-foot birdie at the 10th then launching a run of three straight birdies with an eight-footer at the 12th.
His approach at the 13th tracked the pin before settling a foot from the cup for another birdie, and he drained a nine-footer at the 14th for a share of the lead.
“Super-close to making a two,” he said of the 13th. “I haven’t had very many of those on Tour so that would have been fun to get one there, but it was nice to tap in for birdie.”
He was again tied for the lead after a birdie at 16 — where he belted his tee shot 344 yards then hit a pitching wedge to nine feet. He couldn’t make the eagle putt, settling for a tap-in birdie, then parred the last.
“It was awesome being able to strike it that close to the hole all day,” said DeChambeau, whose birdies all came from within 10 feet. “Didn’t feel as comfortable as I would have liked with the swing, but the results were there so I was very pleased with the results.
“And honestly, if I can do that again tomorrow, I give myself a great chance to win.”
DeChambeau said his bout with Covid had left him 10 pounds lighter, but the player who had credited his bulked up physique with helping him win the US Open last September said he didn’t think it had hurt him.
“Just a little lower ball speed, but I’ll get that back real quickly,” he said. “It’s honestly kind of helped me this week hit it in the fairway, I don’t know why.”
– English grinds through –
English, the world number 10 who won the Tournament of Champions and the Travelers Championship this year to take his career tally of tour titles to four, stayed patient through seven pars to start the round — including a good save from the rough at the seventh.
He drained a 23-foot birdie putt at the eighth, then gave himself a two-foot birdie at the ninth.
“Through a 72-hole golf tournament, you’re going to have nine holes like that where you’re not hitting it quite as good as you want to, you’re scrapping it around,” he said of his slow-ish start.
“That’s why I work so hard on my short game because I know some of those times are going to come and you’ve got to grind through it.”
Smith nabbed the last of his seven birdies at the 18th to cap a five-under par 65 and join DeChambeau in second place.
“It was a little bit scrappy, especially early on,” the Aussie said of a round that included two bogeys on the front nine.
Ancer was alone in fourth on 196 after bogeys at 17 and 18 dropped him to three-under 67 for the round.
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