NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Bae Sang-moon took the lead early and expanded it late Saturday in the Frys.com Open, closing with three big putts for a 7-under 65 and a four-shot lead going into the final round.
The final three holes at Silverado changed everything.
They enabled Matt Kuchar and Brooks Koepka to get back into the hunt, but only briefly because of the great finish by Bae.
The South Korean was on the verge of making a sloppy bogey on the par-5 16th. Leading by two, he went into a hazard, hit a poor chip that barely got onto the fringe and then holed the 15-footer to save par.
With the tee moved forward on No. 17 to make it play about 292 yards to an elevated green, Bae hit drive to just inside 6 feet and holed that for eagle, and then made a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.
He was at 16-under 200, four shots clear of PGA Tour rookie Zach Blair, who made a late birdie for a 69.
Kuchar hit driver to 5 feet on the 17th for an eagle and shot a 66, putting him in the penultimate group and still with a shot of winning just two weeks after the Ryder Cup.
Koepka had a birdie-birdie-birdie finish – with his power, he only needed a 3-wood on the 17th to reach the green – and shot 67. They were at 11-under 205, along with Scott Langley (69) and Martin Laird (71).
As much as the final few holes provide opportunity, they also can take away.
Hideki Matsuyama of Japan was one shot out of the lead when he pulled his tee shot on the 17th into the trees, and had to play a running chip through the trees and to the back of the green into gnarly rough. He wound up with a bogey, and then dropped another critical shot on the 18th when he drove into a tough spot in the fairway bunker. Instead of staying close to Bae, his bogey-bogey finish dropped him to a 69 and he was six shots behind.
As great as Bae was at the end, the start was equally important.
"No stress," Bae said.
Starting with his tee shot into 3 feet on the par-3 second hole, Bae ran off five straight bogeys to build a three-shot lead. The streak ended with a three-putt bogey, and he didn't make another birdie until a 12-foot putt on the par-3 15th.
But the final three holes gave him a cushion.
Bae's only victory on the PGA Tour was last year at the Byron Nelson Championship, and it meant so much to him that he got an apartment in the Dallas area so he could practice at the TPC Four Seasons.
While he has control of the tournament, he wasn't sure how he would approach the final round.
"So many good players behind me," he said. "PGA Tour is always competitive every day, so I don't play just safe sometimes and aggressive sometimes. I need a really, really good combination. I putted really good this week, so it will be good tomorrow, too."
Hunter Mahan had a 68 and was with Matsuyama at 206, along with Retief Goosen (66) and David Lingmerth (70). Mahan is among four players in the field who were in the Ryder Cup in Scotland two weeks ago. Kuchar and Mahan had the best chance to win.
"To be in contention on Sunday, golf gets fun. Golf gets exciting," Kuchar said. "The first tournament of the year and having a chance on a golf course that I think is a lot of fun … I'm excited for tomorrow."