India’s Anirban Lahiri equated his even par 70 in the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship to a 12-round boxing slugfest as he earned a legitimate title shot at winning his first PGA Tour title.
On another gruelling day on Saturday with sweeping winds, cold and rain at TPC Potamac, Lahiri fought brilliantly with three birdies against as many bogeys to move up to tied third place on 4-under 206, four behind new leader Keegan Bradley. The American shot the day’s best of 67 for a two-shot lead over American Max Homa (71).
Chinese Taipei’s CT Pan, and Korean duo Si Woo Kim and KH Lee carded matching 70s to share 13th place on 1-under.
“I just said that it feels like I’ve just gone 12 rounds in a pro boxing match,” said the 34-year-old Lahiri. “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.”
He sank successive birdie putts from 24 feet and 16 feet on the eighth and ninth hole respectively before missing a long-range attempt from 70 feet on the 10th. He picked his third birdie of the day on 14 from eighth feet and dropped bogeys on Hole Nos. 12, 15 and 18.
In 157 previous starts on the PGA Tour, Lahiri has finished runner-up twice at the 2017 Memorial Tournament and The Players Championship in March which saw him pocket his career’s largest pay check of USD 2.18 million at the Tour’s flagship tournament.
Since his near miss at TPC Sawgrass, which was also played under difficult conditions, the Indian star has posted two top-15s in his last three starts and moved to 55th on the FedExCup standings. He knows he must stick to the proverbial one shot at a time mantra if he is to hunt down Bradley, who is chasing his fifth PGA TOUR win.
“You just have to think about the next shot because it’s hard to commit to shots, it’s hard to make decisions,” said Lahiri.
“So you have to get really clear before you pull the trigger what exactly you’re trying to do, and that’s almost the easy part because executing it is no joke. You just try and stay in the moment and find your ball and hit it and try and think of okay, where do I put it next. I don’t even know if you’re going at too many flags because the chances of you walking away dropping a few shots are very high. Like I said, it’s easy because you’re not even thinking about winning a golf tournament, you’re just thinking about the next shot.”
However, Lahiri knows he must drive the golf ball better on Sunday to sustain his title bid. He hit only nine fairways during his third round but was delighted with his iron play once more which enjoyed a turnaround after he added weight to the clubheads before The Players.
“Right now I’m a little disappointed I drove it really poorly on the back nine, so that’s all I’m thinking about now, how do I hit more fairways coming in, how do I keep it in the short stuff, because even from the short stuff it’s hard to judge it,” he said.
“And if you’re in the rough, it’s getting to the point where it’s just a hack-out because there’s just so much water that the clubs — you would have seen it, the club’s just not getting through the grass at all. People are going to shoot some numbers out there, so I think as long as you’re making pars and giving yourself looks at birdies, you’re going to be in a decent spot.
“I guess people have quipped that I’m a good player in tough conditions or tough golf courses or bad weather, but I think all those things have the same thing in common and you have to kind of move on. You’re going to hit some good shots that are going to end up in bad spots, but you just have to move on. I guess I enjoy the challenge of just accepting what’s going on and just trying to move on and hit the next shot.”
Leaderboard (After Round 3)
1. Keegan Bradley: 70-65-67 — 202 (-8);
2. Max Homa: 67-66-71 — 204 (-6);
3. Anirban Lahiri: 68-68-70 — 206 (-4); James Hahn: 66-68-72 — 206 (-4);
5. Matt Fitzpatrick: 68-68-71 — 207 (-3).