By Dave Shedloski
Tain Lee. Mike Ehrmann
The Tain Lee storybook tour of Congaree Golf Club was absolutely magical on Saturday. Until it wasn’t. Until the inward nine, which turned into an outright disaster—the extent of which could end up even worse, depending on events still to be decided.
A Monday qualifier with no World Ranking points and playing in just his third PGA Tour event, Lee, 31, birdied four of his first five holes on Saturday and jumped into the lead at the Palmetto Championship at Congaree, ahead of second-round leader Chesson Hadley and World No. 1 Dustin Johnson. He made steady pars on the next four holes to retain that lead. In fact, he led Round 3 through 12 holes.
Then the three-putt demons hit. Not that he is the only victim. There were 226 three-putts on Congaree’s swift, swerving greens in the first two rounds and Lee contributed two more to the 47 three-putts on Saturday. The second led to a double bogey at the short par-4 15th that completed a stretch of four over in three holes.
He also bogeyed 17 and stood at one over when play was halted for dangerous weather.
Chesson Hadley was the leader at 14 under with one hole to play.
When Lee returns Sunday morning to complete the round, Lee will be sizing up a 16-footer for birdie at 18 that could give him an even-par 71. Two putts wouldn’t be bad either. He’d remain in the top-10 on the leaderboard, a crucial spot. If he were to finish in the top-10 come Sunday night, he’d automatically earn a spot in the
Travelers Championship in two weeks.
Then again, we don’t actually know where he stands. A PGA Tour official confirmed that it was reviewing the penalty drop Lee took on the 15th after he took an unplayable lie from a hazard. The replays show that he appeared to flick to ball down rather than simply releasing it from his hand. Were he to be found taking an illegal drop, he’d incur a two-stroke penalty.
Depending on how he fares at 18, Lee could drop all the way to T-20.
A former NCAA Division III champion, Lee had a hard time believing on Friday that he was tied for third through two rounds. “Yeah, that’s pretty crazy. That’s wild,” he said.
Now it looks like it could get a lot crazier. You know, because it’s golf.
Bo Van Pelt plays his shot from the ninth tee during the first round of the RBC Heritage.
Here are three more takeaways from Saturday’s third round in Ridgeland, S.C.:
More good vibes for the old guard
There is something rejuvenating about the Palmetto State this year for, ahem, older players.
The Palmetto Championship at Congaree is the third event of the season in South Carolina, and the first two saw Stewart Cink, 48, take the RBC Heritage on Hilton Head Island, and, in case you need reminding (how dare you!) Phil Mickelson, 50, claimed the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island to become golf’s oldest major winner.
Now, look who is lurking at Congaree Golf Club. Bo Van Pelt has made the cut in just six of 20 events this season, with one top-25 finish. You wouldn’t expect him to find his form on a rather pernickety layout like Congaree, but after a third-round five-under 66, he stands T-5 through 54 holes at seven-under 206.
Van Pelt is 46 years old, easily one of the oldest players in the field. Just one stroke behind after a 67 is a former world No. 1 Luke Donald, 43 years old. Donald made just his fifth cut in 18 starts, but he is coming off his best finish of the season, a T-13 at AT&T Byron Nelson.
Tyrrell Hatton putts on the first green during the third round of the Palmetto Championship at Congaree.
Both men are playing out of the career money category—Van Pelt top-50 and Donald top-25. They are well behind Chesson Hadley and not likely to win, but they both need points, so clawing higher up the board will be huge Sunday.
Hatton with a hat trick, of sorts
Registering three eagles in one round is quite unusual on the PGA Tour. It happened for only the second time this season when England’s Tyrell Hatton got the hat trick Saturday, joining Matthew Wolff, who scored three eagles in the third round of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open at TPC Summerlin in Las Vegas.
Hatton scored back-to-back eagles by holing out from 62 feet at the par-4 15th and from 107 yards at the par-4 16th. He also eagled the par-5 fourth by holing a 42-foot putt. Hatton’s strange scorecard also included a double bogey at the par-5 second. Oddly, he didn’t make a birdie or a bogey in carding a 67.
According to stats guru Justin Ray, Hatton had the 296th round this season without a birdie, but the first that resulted in sub-70 score.
Nimmer can stand the heat … or can he?
Local favourite Bryson Nimmer, playing in the first group of the day after making the cut on the number, posted his lowest round in a tour event with a 67 that included five birdies and a bogey.
A resident of nearby Bluffton, S.C., Nimmer, 24, is taking advantage of his second sponsor exemption of the year, having also gotten a chance to play in the RBC Heritage, where he missed the cut. With his parents living in nearby Ridgeland, S.C., he’s had a chance to play Congaree more times than most of the players in the field. His comfort level also increased with the added tour experience.
“It takes some getting used to,” said the former Clemson University All-American, who had two victories and won last year’s LocaliQ Series, a replacement circuit for the Latinoamerica Tour that was cancelled because of the pandemic. “Today was the first day it felt like I was just out playing golf. I wasn’t worried about anybody watching or anything like that.”
Good thing, because he had a sizable gallery, even though he went out at 8:05 a.m. EDT. Nimmer moved up 26 spots and at three-under 210 he sits T-27 going into the final round. He’ll have a later tee time. Good news?
“I’m hoping it’s not too late,” he said. “I kind of like the morning tee time. It was kind of nice. Cooler.”
Price of success. It’s always hotter nearer to the top.