NORTON, Mass. (AP) — Paul Casey finished with a birdie and an eagle over the last three holes Sunday for a 5-under 66 and a three-shot lead going into the Labor Day finish at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Casey hit 7-iron into 5 feet for birdie on the par-3 16th, and then he drilled a 3-iron into the swirling wind on the par-5 18th that worked out perfectly. It landed just left of the green, caught a ridge and rolled to 30 inches for the eagle.
Casey was at 15-under 198 as the 39-year-old from England goes after his first PGA Tour in seven years.
“To be sitting here at 66, I’m obviously over the moon,” Casey said. “Even with the great ball-striking, I found it difficult at the beginning, but to turn it around and have a lot of looks for birdies and make a few to come in, it’s been great.”
Brian Harman had a 68 and was three shots behind.
PGA champion Jimmy Walker recovered from a rough start for a 70 and was four shots behind along with Smylie Kaufman and Kevin Chappell, who had the lead until he was derailed by a double bogey on the 12th hole.
Casey endured plenty of trauma on and off the course since winning the Houston Open in 2009, particularly a shoulder injury, and now has a cushion going into the a final round that could be the biggest battle of the week at the TPC Boston.
Remnants of Hermine are expected Monday, so the starting times have been moved forward to give the PGA Tour the best chance to finish. The forecast is for gusts that approach 40 mph at times, and spots of heavy showers.
Until Casey’s late finish, it was shaping up as a shootout.
Louis Oosthuizen shot a 64 before the leaders even teed off and reached 9-under 204. Rory McIlroy made six birdies and an eagle to overcome a few mistakes for a 66. He also was at 204. And because of the wind, no one appeared to be running away with it.
Chappell, still looking for his first PGA Tour victory, made a birdie at the 10th to get to 13 under until he came up short of the green on the 12th hole into the native scrub, blasted over the green and took double bogey. Casey noticed the leaderboard early, and the next time he saw the board, there were a lot more names.
That didn’t affect the shots he chose to play, though he was happy with the results – especially the last one.
Casey had 232 yards to the hole with the wind coming out in and out of the left. The wind picked up and his caddie, John McLaren, stepped him and called him off. The wind died slightly, and the fun wasn’t over.
“It looked left,” Casey said of his shot. “And then the wind gusted and it went right. And after that, I was happy it got over.”
Casey was amazed by the low scoring, including his own, given the wind. The tour prepared for it by moving up several tees.
“A lot of guys were tearing it up,” he said. “Shows how good guys are out there.”
Casey has been through that before. Asked why he only has one PGA Tour victory – he has 14 on the European Tour, mostly recently the KLM Open two years ago – Casey pointed to his early years in the Tiger Woods era.
They seemed to play the same schedule, and Casey said that made it even tougher. And then there were the injuries, which slowed his career. Casey said he has had no excuses the last couple of years, and he was determined to change that.
All he has left is one more round, and what figures to be a day of nasty weather.
Only five players were within five shots of the lead, including Ryan Moore (68) at 10-under 203.
Dustin Johnson wasn’t among them. He was a birdie away from tying for the 36-hole lead on Saturday. Starting the third round just three shots behind, Johnson stumbled to a 75 and was 11 shots back. Jordan Spieth didn’t fare much better. He was five shots behind and had to rally with two late birdies for a 72. He 10 behind.
The top 70 in the FedEx Cup advance to the BMW Championship, which starts Thursday at Crooked Stick in Indiana. Casey was at No. 59 going into the Deutsche Bank, while Harman was at No. 67. Getting to the next FedEx Cup playoff event no longer is a concern.