SAN DIEGO (AP) — K.J. Choi one-putted his last six holes Saturday to salvage an even-par 72 and a share of the lead with Scott Brown going into a final round at the Farmers Insurance Open that seems to have everyone nervous.
The biggest threat might be a forecast of high wind and big rain, and tee times were moved up as early as possible to try to avoid it.
Inside the ropes, the final round figured to be wide open with 16 players separated by three shots.
Choi was headed the wrong direction until he made a pair of birdies, saved par on three straight holes and then hit wedge to 3 feet on the par-5 18th for one last birdie that allowed him to join Brown at 9-under 207.
Brown, whose lone PGA Tour victory was nearly three years ago in Puerto Rico, would not seem to be a candidate to thrive on the South Course at Torrey Pines, the longest on the PGA Tour and a U.S. Open site. But he managed to keep it in play, which is key no matter how far anyone hits it. He had a 70 and goes into Sunday with a great chance to win and earn the Augusta native his first trip to the Masters.
Jimmy Walker, already a winner on two other California courses, was the anomaly. He couldn’t seem to keep it in play off the tee by hitting only three fairways and still managed to gouge enough shots out of the rough and hole enough putts for a 68 that put him one shot behind.
Gary Woodland, tied with Choi going into the third round, birdied his last hole for a 73 to join Walker at one shot behind.
Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler each missed the cut, though Torrey Pines still has a local favorite to cheer. That would be Michael Kim, the Cal grad who went to Torrey Pines High School and grew up watching Mickelson and Tiger Woods win here. Kim had a 70 and was among four players at 7-under 209.
Another shot back was a group that included Dustin Johnson, who didn’t make a birdie until the 13th hole and still managed to limit the damage to a 74.
Choi hasn’t won since The Players Championship in 2011, which gave him a five-year exemption that ends this year. He was an assistant captain in the Presidents Cup in October, and showed he still has plenty of game. Giving him 30 yards off the tee to Johnson and Woodland, he rarely was out of play and dropped shots mainly on a three-putt bogey at No. 5 and a poor chip across the green at No. 7 that led to double bogey.
But he got back into the mix with his strong finish, particularly the par saves on the 15th and 16th holes.
Brown appeared to be the most relaxed, maybe because of his home life. His wife, Allison, gave birth to their second daughter a week ago Tuesday. Brown said that might have put him at ease this week, and he recorded back-to-back top 10s on the PGA Tour for the first time in 2012 right after their first daughter was born.
But he did not dismiss the work he put in over the offseason with swing coach John Tillery, or even the inspiration from good friend and Aiken, South Carolina, neighbor Kevin Kisner, who has been among the best players on tour over the last year and who routinely beats him in games at Palmetto Golf Club.
Even with the lead groups struggling with the South Course, there were plenty of fireworks.
Jason Gore had an albatross when he holed out with a 3-wood on the par-5 18th hole. Ben Crane was stuck behind a tree and punched it out on the 15th, only to watch it bound onto the green and into the cup for an eagle. A short time later, Freddie Jacobson holed out for eagle on the 15th.
Based on the forecast, the final round might be more about surviving with pars.
“I enjoy the grind of it. And I like tough golf courses,” Brown said. “And I think we’re going to have both tomorrow.”