EDISON, N.J. (AP) — Bae Sang-moon is making the most of his final weeks before he starts mandatory military service in South Korea.
Bae matched shots with PGA champion Jason Day throughout the third round of The Barclays on Saturday until both finished at 7-under 63 and tied for the lead going into the final round at Plainfield Country Club.
They were at 11-under 199, one shot ahead of Bubba Watson.
Suddenly, the opening FedEx Cup playoff event is loaded with significance beyond the $10 million bonus at the end of this four-tournament series.
Two shots behind going into the final round was Ryan Palmer, playing for the first time since his father died last week in a traffic accident in West Texas. Palmer, who has not had a top 10 since May, caught himself wondering what it would mean to win with a family grieving at home.
“But then I just kind of come back saying, `OK, let’s just hit this shot, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves yet.’ I don’t know what it’s going to be like if it happens,” Palmer said after a 65. “I can’t put into words what it would mean for sure.”
Day, just like he did on the par 5s at Whistling Straits when he won his first major two weeks ago, cracked a 343-yard drive down the middle on the 601-yard 16th hole, and then hit a 4-iron to 18 feet and holed it for eagle to tie for the lead.
Day and Bae traded bogeys from the rough on the 17th, and both got up-and-down for birdie on the reached 18th.
A victory by the 27-year-old Australian would be his fourth win of the year, tying him with Jordan Spieth for most on the PGA Tour this year, and allow him to join the race for No. 1 going into the final month of the tour season.
Still, Bae might have the most at stake.
He had been able to avoid his mandatory two-year military service through his PGA Tour career until it was determined that he spent too much time in South Korea last year. He appealed the decision, and the military courts ruled a month ago that he had to serve.
Bae accepted the decision, though he remains in America to finish out the FedEx Cup.
A victory for the 29-year-old would move him to No. 7 in the Presidents Cup standings and assure him a spot on the International team. The Presidents Cup will be played Oct. 8-11 in South Korea for the first time. Even if he doesn’t, he might do well enough to merit a pick by captain Nick Price. That’s assuming Bae would be allowed to compete before the military service begins.
“I have a really tough situation right now, but I don’t think about it anymore, actually,” he said. “I have to go back. So that is a few weeks later. So I just want to play good golf this week and really want to play Presidents Cup in my country.”
If he gets to East Lake and captures the FedEx Cup, the $10 million might be a secondary award. Bae also would receive a five-year exemption, which would come in handy when he returns from the military.
The FedEx Cup trophy is a long way off. So is the trophy for The Barclays.
Carlos Ortiz of Mexico made a strong move to get inside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup and advance to the second event by posting a bogey-free 62 and get within four shots of the lead. Justin Rose, who opened with a 77, bounced back with rounds of 65-63 and was tied for 14th. Low scores are available, and there were plenty of them Saturday, leading to several possibilities for the final round.
British Open champion Zach Johnson and Henrik Stenson each had 67 and joined Palmer at 9-under 201. Former PGA champion Jason Dufner had a 69 and was four shots behind. Ten players were separated by five shots going into the final round.
Palmer can only hope for the same soothing feeling golf has given him this week. The problems he has had driving the ball seem to have gone away. So has the irritation from hitting bad shots. Golf has been a refuge this week. His caddie, James Edmondson, also was close to Palmer’s father. Edmondson and Palmer’s agent, Mike Chisum, have been with him in Amarillo and all week in New Jersey.
“Them being here this week has been huge for me to just kind of keep my mind off of it,” Palmer said. “When I get inside the ropes, I get those four hours to not thin a whole lot about it and really try to play golf with some peace and comfort.”