Defending champion Patrick Cantlay fired a six-under-par 65 to open up a one-shot lead at the BMW Championship in Delaware on Saturday.
Cantlay, bidding to become the first player in FedEx Cup post-season history to successfully defend a tournament title, conjured six birdies and an eagle at Wilmington Country Club for a 54-hole aggregate of 12-under 201.
The 30-year-old world No 4 started the day two shots adrift of second-round leader Adam Scott but quickly halved that deficit on the opening hole, rolling in a monster 43-foot birdie putt.
Birdies on the 3rd and the 7th – after another long birdie putt from 30 feet – took Cantlay to the turn at three-under for the day.
A bogey on the par-four 11th briefly checked his progress but Cantlay responded with back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th before a magnificent eagle three on the 14th, the American holing out with a sublime lob wedge from 104 yards.
That took Cantlay a shot clear of the field at 12 under but a rare putting blunder on the 17th – missing a three-footer for bogey – dropped him back to 11-under.
Yet once again, Cantlay responded in style, blasting his second shot on the 18th to the back of the green with sharp backspin that left him with just a seven-footer for birdie.
“I hit the ball really well today,” Cantlay said afterwards. “Left a few out there but I think today was really about my bounce backs – after the two bogeys I made which were mistakes, I made birdies on the next two holes and got back into the round and kept the momentum to take into tomorrow.”
Cantlay said he was not thinking about possibly emulating his 2021 FedEx Cup victory, when he won both the BMW and the Tour Championship.
“My head is not even there right now,” he said. “I think the best way to handle this playoff system is to just focus on doing your best in the tournament that you’re in and not worry too much about the points. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Cantlay’s 65 leaves him one clear of close friend Xander Schauffele, who posted a five-under 66 on Saturday to finish the day on 202 alongside fellow American Scott Stallings.
Schauffele’s bogey-free round included an eagle, three birdies and 14 pars.
Stallings advanced up the leaderboard with a 66 that featured six birdies.
Australia’s second-round leader Scott, meanwhile, is a shot further back on 10 under after battling to a two-under-par 69 that included four birdies and two bogeys.
Scott was joined by world No 1 Scottie Scheffler, who had threatened to challenge for the outright lead early in the round after four birdies and six pars over the opening 10 holes.
Scheffler’s round came unstuck though down the stretch, with back-to-back bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes.
Scheffler recovered from that setback with a birdie on the 18th that left him firmly in the hunt heading into Sunday’s final round.
Collin Morikawa will also fancy his chances of making a final-day charge after a 65 propelled him to nine under, three off the pace.
Morikawa pocketed seven birdies and only one bogey and shares sixth on the leaderboard alongside Aaron Wise, who shot a 67.
South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout is on six under (T14) after a third-round 67 that included six birdies and two bogies.
But Saturday’s third round marked the end of Will Zalatoris’ challenge. The in-form American, winner of last week’s St Jude Championship, withdrew from the tournament after suffering a back injury on the 3rd hole.
© Agence France-Presse