Justin Lower birdied the final hole on Saturday to cap a three-under-par 69 and seize the outright lead at the Fortinet Championship, where he is in search of his first PGA Tour title.
Lower, who barely kept his playing rights for the 2022-23 season, had five birdies and two bogeys at Silverado Resort in Napa, California, rolling in a four-foot birdie putt at the par-five finishing hole to give himself a one-shot lead on 13-under 203.
Lower had opened the tournament with a sparkling 63 on Thursday, but on Friday slipped two shots behind second-round leaders Max Homa and Danny Willett.
England’s 2016 Masters champion Willett and American Homa both carded even-par 72s on Saturday to share second on 204 – one stroke in front of South Korean An Byeong-hun.
An’s fourth birdie of the day at the par-three 15th had put him atop the leaderboard at 13 under, but he made a double-bogey at the par-five 16th on the way to a one-under 71.
Lower said his round was steady, once he got past a “nervy” bogey on the 1st hole.
“I just tried to keep it in play, keep it in the fairway and just kind of go from there.”
He made back-to-back birdies at the 4th and 5th, giving a stroke back at the 7th where he was unable to get up and down from a greenside bunker.
Lower was in trouble at the par-five 9th, but holed out from the greenside rough for birdie. He rolled in a seven-footer for another birdie at 11.
Just a month ago the 33-year-old Lower was distraught thinking he had missed keeping his tour card by a single stroke over the entire campaign of his rookie season.
His place was secured, however, when players who defected to the upstart LIV Golf Series were removed from the season points list.
Now he’s in a position to challenge for his first victory.
“It’s everything,” he said. “It’s why we play. Playing on the best tour in the world and you have a chance to win – it’s pretty cool.”
Willett is chasing his first US win since his Masters triumph. He had topped the leaderboard after a birdie at the 8th but fell back with a disastrous double-bogey at the 9th.
He grabbed his share of second with an unlikely birdie at 18, where his tee shot was left but got a good roll alongside a cart path.
His second shot was in the greenside rough but he was able to get relief from the grandstand wall that would have interfered with his swing.
“It’s always nice to get a little bit of luck down the last there to make a birdie and be in that last group,” Willett said, adding that the conditions were challenging.
“It was tough when we started the day, it was really windy,” he said.
Conditions are expected to change on Sunday, with tee times moved up in hopes of missing the worst of expected rain.
© Agence France-Presse