Friends, playing partners Hodges, Barjon share AmEx lead

LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — Lee Hodges and Paul Barjon took advantage of a late tee time Saturday to miss the worst of a windy day and share the third-round lead in The American Express.

“It was tough early and it kind of died on our back nine a little bit,” Hodges said. “It was off and on, but it was a good wind. The easy holes were playing a little easier, but the hard holes were hard. So you just had to make a couple pars and then get to those downwind holes.”

Playing together in the final group off the 10th tee on PGA West’s Stadium Course, the PGA Tour rookies and close friends each birdied the par-5 fifth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth and closed with a par.

“We’re just best buddies and we have a great time out there,” Hodges said. “We keep it really light and it’s easy to compete when your friends are playing well.”

Hodges, a 26-year-old former Alabama golfer, shot an 8-under 64. Barjon, the 29-year-old Frenchman who played at Texas Christian, had a 65.

“We just kind of feed off each other, so it’s been fun,” Barjon said.

Hodges opened Thursday with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club for a share of the first-round lead with defending FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, then shot a 72 on Friday on PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course.

Hodges and Barjon, both making their 14th PGA Tour start, were at 18-under 198.

Tom Hoge was a stroke back after a 68 at La Quinta, playing in the second group off the first tee in the strongest wind of the day.

“Generally, I would say it’s better to be here,” Hoge said about tree-lined La Quinta. “It’s a little more protected from the trees and a little bit shorter golf course, so you could play a little more conservatively off the tee, get the ball in play and go from there.”

Hoge opened with his lone bogey of the week. He holed out from a greenside bunker on the par-4 fourth for the first of three straight birdies, added a birdie on the par-5 11th and parred the last seven.

Seamus Power, also at La Quinta, was 16 under after a 66. The Irishman played a five-hole stretch on the front nine in 6 under, capping the run with an eagle on the par-5 sixth.

“It was an interesting round,” said Power, who won his first tour title at the Barbasol Championship last year in Kentucky. “It was very fun on the front there. It was one of those rounds just kind of made everything I looked at for an hour and a half.”

Hudson Swafford, the 2017 champion, was at 15 under with Harry Higgs and Lanto Griffin.

Swafford birdied four of his last five holes on the Stadium Course, the site of the final round.

“I was really patient,” Swafford said. “I gave myself a lot of looks even though it played really tough early. I mean the wind, I’m not going to say it’s laid down, but it was blowing early pretty good.”

Griffin had a 69 at La Quinta. He’s making his first start of the year after injuring his back carrying his dog and withdrawing from the Sony Open last week in Hawaii.

“It’s feeling a lot better than I thought it would and I’m playing a lot better than I thought I would,” Griffin said. “So, it’s been a really fun week.”

Higgs shot a 67 on the Stadium layout in the first group off the first tee.

Cantlay, a stroke ahead entering the day, had an even-par 72 on Stadium Course to drop four strokes back.

Trying to win for the third time in four starts, the former UCLA player had four birdies and four bogeys. Last year in the desert, he closed with a Stadium-record 61 to finish a shot behind winner Si Woo Kim.

Top-ranked Jon Rahm shot a 67 on the Stadium Course to get to 13 under. The 2018 winner finished with a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-4 18th.

Defending champion Kim was 11 under after a 69 on the Stadium Course.

Tournament host Phil Mickelson tied for 150th in the 156-man field, shooting 78-73-72 and failing to advance to the final round.

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