VALLARTA, Mexico (AP) — Tony Finau had a terrific stretch at the Mexico Open on Saturday, posting five birdies over his last seven holes for a 6-under 65 that gave him a two-shot lead over Masters champion Jon Rahm and 21-year-old Akshay Bhatia.
Rahm, the defending champion, matched his lowest round on the PGA Tour with a 61. He started the third round six shots behind and at one point took a one-shot lead until Finau rallied at the end.
Bhatia also finished with a flourish, hitting his second shot to 8 feet on the par-5 18th hole at Vallarta Vidanta for an eagle and a 63.
Rahm had enough mistakes over the previous two rounds to put himself in a hole. Saturday was not one of those days. He missed only one green and four of his 10 birdies were putts from about 25 feet or longer.
“If I putt as good as I did today, I’ll definitely give myself a chance,” Rahm said.
Finau was at 19-under 194 as he goes for his second victory this season, and his fourth PGA Tour title in the last nine months.
Right as Rahm was making a charge on the back with three straight birdies, Finau answered with a tough pitch from short of the par-5 12th hole for birdie. After a tee shot went long on the par-3 13th, he hit a lofted pitch that rolled in for birdie, and then followed that with a bold 3-iron that he started toward the water and drew it back to about 12 feet on the par-5 14th for a two-putt birdie.
His only blemish was a three-putt from the fringe on the par-3 17th, but he answered with a final birdie to take a two-shot shot cushion into the final round.
Finau didn’t see a leaderboard until early on the back nine. That was his first indication that Rahm was making a big charge.
“I think it definitely got my juices going a little bit and was able to make a few birdies coming in to stay in front of him,” Finau said. “It was something I expected going into today. He’s an amazing golfer. I play with him a lot and to see him at the top of the leaderboard after only 12 or 13 holes was not a big surprise to me.”
Finau was a runner-up to Rahm last year in the Mexico Open.
Rahm began his round with a birdie putt from just inside 40 feet, a sign of what was to come. He went out in 29 and then ran off three straight birdies in the middle of the back nine. The Spaniard needed birdie on the par-5 closing hole for his lowest round, but his drive settled near the lip of a bunker and he could only blast out sideways, leading to par.
He also shot 61 in the third round of the Mexico Championship at Chapultepec in 2020, and in the third round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions in 2022. He did not win either of those two tournaments.
“Today, everything just seemed perfect. Made a lot of great swings and the ones that weren’t great, still gave myself a good result,” Rahm said.
Not to be overlooked were the long putts.
“One is already a bonus. To do it twice, three times, is amazing,” he said. “I think that’s the difference usually in a course like this. You can see a lot of 6-, 7-under pars. But to get to 10, you’re going to have to make a few lengthy ones. Really happy with what I did and just glad I gave myself a chance tomorrow.”
Rahm at No. 1 in the world and Finau at No. 16 are the only players from the top 20 at the Mexico Open. Bhatia played a practice round with them earlier in the week, and now he gets them on Sunday. It’s heady stuff for the kid who turned pro at 17.
Bhatia is already assured a PGA Tour card for next season, having been runner-up in the Puerto Rico Open earlier this year. That led to special temporary membership, meaning he can get unlimited exemptions the rest of the year.
But he can’t take part in the PGA Tour postseason without winning. This will be another great chance, thanks to a 30 on the back nine that was capped off by the eagle on No. 18.
“Today was amazing because I felt very calm and I’m just putting myself more and more in this position,” Bhatia said. “And I know I’m capable of winning — obviously won on the Korn Ferry Tour — so I know what the feelings feel like going into tomorrow.”
Brandon Wu (67) was three shots behind. No one else was within five shots of Finau.
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