(Reuters) – Local favorite Billy Hurley III moved one step closer to a first PGA Tour victory as he seized a two-shot lead after Saturday’s third round of the Quicken Loans National in Bethesda, Maryland.
The 34-year-old American, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who calls nearby Annapolis his home, fired a flawless four-under-par 67 on a rain-softened layout at Congressional to post a 15-under total of 198.
PGA Tour veteran Ernie Els, seeking a 20th win on the U.S. circuit but his first in four years, was alone in second after shooting a bogey-free 65 with joint second-round leader Jon Rahm of Spain (70) a further stroke back at 12 under.
Hurley, who had been tied for the lead overnight with Rahm, stormed ahead with three birdies on the front nine before picking up another shot after the turn, sinking a 15-footer at the par-four 14th.
Though he failed to reach the green in two at the par-four last after his tee shot found the left rough, he very nearly holed out with a near-perfect chip from 55 feet and tapped in for par to remain two ahead.
South African Els, whose most recent PGA Tour victory came at the 2012 British Open, holed out from 157 yards to eagle the par-four 12th, then sank a 24-foot birdie putt at the par-four 14th to surge up the leaderboard.
“I enjoyed it,” Els, 46, told CBS Sports. “I’m not the straightest driver but I kept it in play for the most part. The misses I did have weren’t too far off and the putter was hot for most of the round.
“I missed those short ones on 15 and 16,” he said, referring to a six-footer and a four-footer, “but just overall solid golf and that’s what you’ve got to do at Congressional.”
Els has recorded just one top-25 in 15 starts on the 2015-16 PGA Tour, a tie for 14th at the RBC Heritage in April, but has come a long way since his mind-boggling six-putt on the first green at the Masters in April.
“Obviously when we’ve played this game long enough, there’s a lot of things that’s going to happen to you,” he said. “Playing the game for 25 years as a professional, everything just about has happened.
“And obviously that happened at the first hole of the Masters which is not great, so it’s been a kind of a re-set since then and I’m enjoying putting.”
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Steve Keating)