Ponte Vedra Beach (US): Chasing a breakthrough win, India’s Anirban Lahiri dished out a superb performance in brutal conditions to grab a slender one-shot lead at the weather-hit PLAYERS Championship, the PGA Tour’s flagship USD 20 million tournament.
Lahiri (67-73 and 5-under through 11) at 9-under took one-shot lead over American duo Harald Varner III (69-69 and 2-under through 9 in third) and Tom Hoge (66-71 and 1-under through 9 in third).
The third round was suspended at 7.32pm on Sunday due to darkness following multiple weather disruptions since Thursday.
Lahiri was 4-under and T-11 when the midway point of the Players was reached in a week that has seen over 4.5 inches of rain, forcing a Monday finish.
It is still a long way with 25 holes to go, but Lahiri could not stop smiling.
“I’m just being in the moment right now. I’m really happy, I’m confident,” he said.
“The ball seems to be coming out in front of me, which hasn’t happened that much in the past. I’m just going to try and do the same thing: Fire at pins that I’m comfortable with and clubs that I’m comfortable with.
“When I get an uncomfortable shot then just respect it and try and make a putt. I think that’s all I can do.”
After his best ever start at The PLAYERS with a 67 in first round, he did not swing a club on Friday or Saturday and returned to action only on Sunday and played 29 holes in extremely cold conditions, that he admittedly is not used to.
Lahiri shot one-over 73 in the third round and that included his second eagle of the week, this time on a Par-5, and closed the round with a bogey.
The relief of coming out with a par on the deadly Par-3 17th’s Island Green was evident as he put his hand to his heart after landing on the green.
Left on the wrong side of the cut line and missing it were the likes of Collin Morikawa, Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele, while Rory McIlroy and Scottie Scheffler just about squeezed in.
Two and a half hours after closing his second round with a bogey, Lahiri came out for the third round and opened birdie-birdie from 10 feet and two-putting from 45 feet on Par-5 second. Three pars followed and then a birdie putt from nine feet dropped.
Back-to-back birdies on eighth and ninth followed. His tee shot on Par-3 eighth came to rest less than four feet and he holed a 25-foot bomb on ninth to turn in 5-under.
The 10th saw his first mistake as the tee shot went into the trees but he got back to the fairway and then onto the green in three. From 39 feet, Lahiri two-putted for a bogey.
Minutes later two superb shots a drive and an approach brought him within 30 feet of the hole and he two-putted for his sixth birdie of the day and moved to 5-under for the day and 9-under for the tournament and a one-shot lead.
The hooter went off and Lahiri was back in the clubhouse after a 12-hour day.
Lahiri is seeking his first PGA Tour win after being on the PGA Tour since 2016 and having made 153 starts.
In 2021-22, he has so far made 12 starts but does not have a single Top-10 and came to TPC Sawgrass on a run of three missed cut. TPC Sawgrass has not been kind to him either with four missed cuts and a best of T-74 in five starts.
Yet this week, the slightest of changes made to his equipment by adding 3.5 grams of weight to his irons have made a huge difference.
“Yeah, who doesn’t want to win THE PLAYERS Championship?” Lahiri told the media after he brilliantly produced six birdies against a lone bogey in 11 holes of his third round.
“You just don’t know. You grind away, you keep chipping away, you keep working on your game, and when it clicks, it clicks. It could be this week, it could be next week. As long as it happens, and that’s the belief you’ve got to have.
“I’m just happy that I’m playing well, hitting my irons well. When you are in that state of mind, you usually play well, and that’s what’s happening.”
Lahiri has two DP World Tour titles which he achieved in 2015, including one in his home country at the 2015 Hero Indian Open.
He has twice played on the International Team player at the Presidents Cup and has been on the PGA TOUR since 2016 and has a career best finish of T-2 at the 2017 Memorial Tournament and 12 other top-10s through 153 starts on TOUR.
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