LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) — Max Homa has the word “relentless” tattooed on his right arm so the Southern California native will see it every morning when he brushes his teeth.
Homa has been mercilessly chewing up the Stadium Course at The American Express with 17 birdies in the last two days — although it also bit him back with a few big-number bogeys.
If he can keep up the relentlessness Sunday, Homa could have his second career PGA Tour trophy in his arms.
Homa made nine birdies and shrugged off a double bogey on the way to a 7-under 65 in the third round Saturday, joining Tony Finau and Si Woo Kim atop the leaderboard at 15-under 201.
Richy Werenski also shot a 65 and moved within a shot of the lead at PGA West near Palm Springs. Scotland’s Russell Knox shot the day’s low round with a 64 — one stroke off the course record — to join Brian Harman and Emiliano Grillo at 13 under.
Finau and Kim both shot 67 and finished strong in the rain, joining Homa in prime position for a win. The tournament is Homa’s first of the new year on a course he has played regularly since he attended high school in Valencia, about two hours away in the Los Angeles area.
“I wouldn’t say it’s ever easy to make birdies, but I’ve given myself a ton of looks,” Homa said. “I think we only missed a few greens today, which is good. You just want to keep staying in that rhythm on the greens when you’re rolling it well.”
After beginning the third round three shots off the lead, Homa surged up the board with four birdies in his first five holes — before he put his tee shot in the water and two-putted for that double bogey on the seventh. Homa made up for it with birdies on five of his next eight holes, including three in a row down the back stretch.
The Burbank-born son of a well-known acting coach is giving himself positive affirmations in his bid to embody the word on his arm. He didn’t even get down after a miserable triple bogey Friday in which he hit two shots into bunkers and a third into the water before two-putting from 4 feet on the 10th.
“There’s obviously a handful of very daunting holes, but I’ve been fortunate enough to play here a ton, so I have a pretty good feel for the place,” Homa said. “I’ve been able to put myself in a position to have good looks for birdie, and I’ve been putting great. It’s just something about these greens. It feels like home.”
Kim, who is chasing his third career win, played the Stadium Course without a bogey for the second time in three days, while the streakier Finau bounced back from a double bogey on the 13th with three consecutive birdies.
Finau put his tee shot in the water on the 13th and then missed a 10-inch putt, but the Utah native rebounded with three of his eight birdies on a series of impressive approach shots.
“Sometimes it’s not a terrible thing to hit a bad shot as long as you know what you did,” Finau said. “So it actually helped me on the holes coming in. I was able to hit a lot of quality shots really close, and I was able to finish off a solid round.”
Finau is also seeking his second career PGA Tour victory and his first since 2016 despite heading into the final round with a share of the lead four times.
“Fortunately for me, I’ve had a lot of opportunities, so hopefully everything that I’ve learned, I’m going to bottle up,” Finau said. “I’m a competitor. I’ve won at every level. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t sting to not have another (title), so tomorrow is a big day.”
The field played through sparse desert rain in the afternoon. Precipitation finally fell in earnest when the final group reached the 18th hole, with Finau and Kim forced to pull out their umbrellas.
Second-round leader Sungjae Im struggled to a 73, leaving him five shots off the lead after four bogeys — including a triple bogey on the ninth after putting two straight shots in the water. First-round leader Brandon Hagy shot a 72 and was even with Im at 10 under.
Werenski charged into fourth with a round that included six birdies and was highlighted by an eagle on the fifth after an exceptional 224-yard approach shot left him a 4-foot putt.
The 29-year-old Massachusetts native is also seeking his second PGA Tour win. After going bogey-free through his first 48 holes at The American Express, he finally missed a 10-foot par putt on the 13th before rallying with two more birdies down the stretch
“I’ve been giving myself plenty of looks and just haven’t been converting them, and today I finally made some (putts),” Werenski said. “So I think we’re kind of turning the corner.”
Australia’s Cameron Davis had the shot of the day on the 15th, holing out for eagle from 157 yards away from a section of rough below the fairway. Davis finished the third round at 12-under 204 along with Rory Sabbatini, Chase Seiffert, Francesco Molinari and Doug Ghim.
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