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Keegan Bradley overcomes elements, takes third-round lead at TPC Potomac

Third-round leader Keegan Bradley reacts after making a putt on the 18th green to close an unforgiving Saturday at the Wells Fargo at TPC Potomac. “When conditions get like this, I find a sense of calm,” said the Vermont native. (Nick Wass/AP)
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As temperatures tumbled amid soaking rain and raw, blustery wind, scores soared Saturday at the Wells Fargo Championship, where players dealt with not only the elements but also a treacherous layout at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm that bared its teeth on the most unforgiving day of the tournament.

By the time the chaos was complete, Keegan Bradley stood alone in first place thanks to a 3-under-par 67 during a rugged third round that produced just four scores below par. His 54-hole total of 202 left him two strokes ahead of second-place Max Homa and four clear of Anirban Lahiri and James Hahn, both tied for third.

“When conditions get like this, I find a sense of calm,” said Bradley, a Vermont native who shot the low round of the afternoon and drew upon growing up playing golf in the Northeast in sometimes even more unfavorable weather. “I’m sort of worrying about other things, keeping my clubs dry and my bag dry. It sort of keeps me in the present.”

Wells Fargo leader board

The third-round scoring average of 73.662 was the highest in a PGA Tour tournament since the final round of the 2020 U.S. Open.

Bradley put himself in position for his first victory since the 2018 BMW Championship thanks to deft play at the par-3s during a run of three birdies over four holes. The first of those birdies came at No. 3, where Bradley holed a 14-foot putt.

At the par-4 11th, Bradley sank a 22-footer for birdie before landing his tee shot at the par-3 12th less than three feet from the pin, displaying accuracy that helped him become PGA Tour rookie of the year in 2011, when he also won the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club.

That victory placed Bradley among a half-dozen players in golf history to win their first start in a major championship.

Bradley had been trending up coming into the first PGA Tour event in the suburbs of D.C. since 2018, logging three top-10s in his previous five events. Most recently he finished tied for fourth at the Zurich Classic near New Orleans at which he shot a third-round 63.

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“Today and yesterday were just really good ball-striking and really good putting,” Bradley said. “It’s rare that you match those up, and I matched those up the last two days. So if I can just continue that, I like my chances.”

A swing that broke down seemingly overnight plagued 36-hole leader Jason Day. The 2015 PGA Championship winner entered the weekend three shots ahead of his closest pursuer but made three bogeys and a triple-bogey on the front nine on the way to a 9-over 79 to fall nine shots off the pace.

Day’s travails began at the par-3 third, where his tee shot plugged some 85 yards from the pin in a bunker protecting the right side of the green. His sand shot wound up on the other side of the putting surface, and a pitch back toward the pin came to rest inside of nine feet.

After making that putt for bogey, Day pulled his tee shot at the 443-yard par-4 fourth into the water along the left side of the fairway. He followed by driving into the right rough, laid up 86 yards from the flag, pitched to eight feet and missed that putt for a triple-bogey 7.

Day landed in the water on the left again with an errant tee shot at the 354-yard par-4 fifth, took a drop and left his third shot 46 yards from the hole. He pitched to five feet and made the putt for bogey, dropping out of the lead.

The misery ebbed briefly when Day finally found land off the tee at the next hole, a 449-yard par 4, and had a putt inside 10 feet for birdie, but he was unable to capitalize.

“Unfortunately I just didn’t have my stuff today,” Day said. “I made a lot of errors out there and hitting into penalty areas. It’s okay. I’ve just got to get back to it tomorrow and try and find some positives from the first two days going into tomorrow’s round.”

Three groups in front of Day was Lahiri, who wielded his putter masterfully over Nos. 8 and 9, holing putts from 24 and 16 feet, respectfully, to get within a shot of the lead after completing his outward nine with a 33. It was his first weekend appearance at the Wells Fargo in four starts.

The native of India and runner-up at the Players Championship contested in similar conditions as this tournament flashed a wide smile on his first putt after making the turn when his ball stalled inches from the cup on a birdie bid from outside 70 feet.

Also with a 33 over his first nine was Rory McIlroy, the highest ranked player in the field at No. 7. The three-time winner of the Wells Fargo Championship, including last year at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, fired a 2-under 68 for the day’s second-lowest score.

“It feels like I’ve just gone 12 rounds in a pro boxing match you’re fighting everything,” said Lahiri, who made bogey at 18 to finish his round at even par. “You’re fighting your body, the elements, the water. It’s tough work. You just have to grit your teeth and kind of grind it out.”

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