GARDENS OF PALM BEACH, FLORIDA — Daniel Berger knew he pushed the short par putt on the 10th hole to the right as soon as he hit it. He even made a hand gesture.
The ball surprisingly broke left and slipped in the right edge, much to his astonishment – and happiness. Berger chuckled as he walked away from the putting green.
Berger has had a week like this in the Honda Classic. He makes putts even when he thinks he has missed them.
“I figured I’d be tapping in for bogey,” Berger said. “But sometimes you get wonderful breaks, and that was definitely one there.”
He doesn’t need any luck, of course.
The Jupiter native scored a 1-under 69 on Saturday at PGA National’s Champion Course to extend his lead to five strokes heading into the final round. This is the tournament’s greatest 54-hole lead in its 50-year history.
Berger is five shots ahead of four players: 2019 British Open champion Shane Lowry, Sepp Straka, Kurt Kitayama, and Chris Kirk, who are all at 11 under 199. Berger was on the verge of playing the day’s only bogey-free round until he bogeyed the par-5 18th for no apparent reason.
Berger remarked of his first two rounds, “That was certainly a better round than the first two 65s.” “I’m incredibly happy of how I persevered and fought after a slow start. The course presented a significant challenge.”
Berger came close to winning the Honda Classic in his hometown the first time he competed in it, losing in a playoff in 2015. This tournament does not look to be heading to a climax.
On the difficult Champion Course at PGA National, he has produced 13 birdies and only two bogeys to seize command – the rest of the field is averaging 3.3 bogeys per round. Berger has been a ball-striking machine, ranking second in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green in the field.
Lowry is well aware that he faces a difficult task if he is to win for the first time since winning the Open, especially on the Champion course.
“On this golf course, you can’t really pursue somebody down,” Lowry said. “All you have to do now is go about your business and attempt to get the best score possible.” I believe that if you become overly pushy, you will struggle to succeed. If you can get within two or three points of the lead on the way to 14, 15, anything may happen.”
Sunday tee timings at Honda
Despite his large lead, Berger admitted that he faces another tough day as he attempts to win his fifth PGA Tour championship. He’s one of three people who can convert 54-hole leads.
“Having the edge is good, but it could all change in one hole out here,” Berger said.
Berger confessed that he took playing a rare home game on the PGA Tour for granted until he missed last year’s Honda Classic due to a rib injury that forced him to withdraw shortly before the first round. Due to a back issue, he was also unable to defend his championship at Pebble Beach lately.
If he wins on Sunday, he’ll climb from 21st to 13th in the global rankings. Berger’s highest rating in his career is 12th.
Saturday, the Champion Course lived true to its moniker. Lowry had the lowest round of the day, a 67. In comparison, there were 11 rounds of 67 or lower on Friday.
“I was looking at the scoring this morning and generally on a Saturday morning on the PGA Tour, someone goes 5-, 6-under and moves up the leaderboard,” Lowry explained. “However, no one was doing it this morning, and I told myself when I arrived at the course that today would be difficult.”
Kirk, like Berger, has four PGA Tour victories but hasn’t won since 2015. Kirk took a seven-month vacation from golf in 2019 to cope with alcohol and depression difficulties, but he has since returned to the game with four top-10 finishes.
Kirk is in fourth place in the field with 7.37 strokes gained on the greens this week. On the second hole, he struck a 31-footer for birdie to close to within two shots of the lead, but he only made one more birdie as Berger began to pull away.
The Honda Classic was won by defending champion Matt Jones, Camilo Villegas (2010), and Jack Nicklaus by a five-shot margin (1977). Villegas holds the lowest winning score at PGA National since the Honda Classic was contested there in 2007, at 13 under.
Berger has a chance to break those records on Sunday, but he’d rather have his name etched on the champion’s trophy.
Berger stated, “My strategy will remain the same.” “Fairways and greens, with the occasional putt thrown in.”
Even if you believe you’ve missed the putt.