BETHESDA, Md. (AP) Billy Hurley III relied on his experience as a Naval officer to stay focused during a bogey-free round in the Quicken Loans National. Only a few times did his mind slip away.
Hurley couldn’t help but drift away from golf when he made the turn and looked at the police officers following his group. Not used to that attention, Hurley thought about his father who died 10 months ago of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
”It dawned on me: This is what my dad did. He walked inside the ropes and did this at Presidents Cups and stuff,” Hurley said. ”Obviously, I think about my dad a lot.”
With his dad on his mind, Hurley shot a 4-under 67 on Saturday to take a two-stroke lead over Ernie Els into the final round of Tiger Woods’ annual tournament. The 607th-ranked player in the world was 15 under and in position for his first PGA Tour victory.
”I can’t think of a better one for me to win,’ said Hurley, a graduate of the Naval Academy and a resident of Annapolis. ”To be my first one on tour, it would be probably the best one of kind of the regular-season tournaments, for sure.”
To win, Hurley will have to again tame the Blue Course at Congressional as he has through three rounds and fend off Els and the rest of the pack chasing him. Jon Rahm (70) was three strokes back, and Bill Haas and Webb Simpson (68) were five back.
Even though he believes ”no lead is big enough,” Hurley was in control because he had just three bogeys. Even when he hasn’t hit fairways, the 34-year-old has looked poised and unfazed by the spotlight and the pressure of being the hometown rooting interest.
Hurley credits his five years in the Navy for building up mental toughness.
”That definitely helps in adversity on the golf course,” said Hurley, who grew up in Leesburg, Virginia. ”Focus, too. When you’re driving a ship through the Suez Canal, it’s all eyes ahead, focused exactly what we’re doing. Land on each side and trying to just keep it in the middle. Focusing on the task at hand is definitely something that I’ve learned, as well.”
The task at hand now is being paired with Els, a four-time major winner, on Sunday.
Els holed out for eagle on the par-4 12th and finished with a 65. The 46-year-old hit a 9-iron from the fairway from 157 yards.
”When the game gives you something, there’s a lot of excitement there and that was really one of the more exciting moments,” Els said. ”I don’t think I’ve ever slam-dunked it into the hole like that. I’ve had some run of slopes and run into the hole but that just flew right in. It was a great feeling.”
Els hasn’t won since the 2012 British Open but has been building up his confidence despite a poor run of results. He has been thinking about winning at Congressional, the place he captured the 1997 U.S. Open.
”I can’t but help think about it because I won one of my biggest events here as a pro and I love it so much and obviously one more win will give me the 20, which is huge,” Els said. ”On the golf course you think about the next shot and I’m quite focused this week on my next golf shot. I’m not too clogged with that kind of a thought.”
Rahm is trying to maintain his composure after struggling in the third round of his first professional event. The 21-year-old former Arizona State star from Spain, who held the lead after one round and shared it with Hurley after two, had four bogeys in the 70 that left him three strokes behind Hurley.
Rahm said he couldn’t drive the ball all day. He sliced his tee shot on 13 past the trees and putted well enough to stay in contention.
”I couldn’t seem to find the rhythm to find the fairway,” Rahm said. ”With the way I hit the driver, I’m lucky to have finished under par.”