(Reuters) - Scotland’s Martin Laird shot a three-under-par 68 to hold off some charging youngsters on Saturday and take a three-stroke lead into the final round of the Phoenix Open.
Laird sank a pair of 10-foot, par-saving putts at the 16th and 18th holes to finish his 54 holes in 13-under-par 200 at TPC Scottsdale.
Those shots helped keep him ahead of 22-year-old Japanese Hideki Matsuyama, who birdied the last four holes in a bogey-free 63, and 24-year-old American Brooks Koepka, who fired six birdies for 30 on the back nine in his 64. Former Masters champion Zach Johnson (67) joined them in a tie for second.
“My short’s game’s been really good this year so far, and the putter especially today,” Laird told reporters.
“This course yields loads of birdies and low scores, like the guys behind me showed today, so if I go out tomorrow and keep firing and keep putting the way I did, hopefully I can get it done.”
Three players were tied at nine-under, including amateur Jon Rahm of Spain and Arizona State University. Playing on a sponsor’s exemption, Rahm shot a 66 for a 204 total that he shared with Americans Ryan Palmer (68) and Justin Thomas (69).
Another stroke back was a large group that included Italy’s Francesco Molinari, who had the stadium crowd of over 15,000 surrounding the par-three 16th in a frenzy with a hole-in-one.
Molinari’s ace helped him to a seven-under 64 and triggered a wild celebration in which fans threw their beer cans to virtually cover the slopes leading up to the green.
“We don’t see a reaction in golf like that too often,” he said.
The ace, the first at the Phoenix Open since Tiger Woods drained one in 1997, helped Molinari shoot 64 for the day, finishing the round eight-under and five shots back of Laird.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York, additional reporting by Cameron French in Toronto; Editing by Gene Cherry/Patrick Johnston