PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — As soon as Daniel Berger hit the short par putt on the 10th hole, he knew he pushed it to the right. He even gestured with his hand.
Much to his surprise — and delight — the ball unexpectedly broke left and slipped in the right edge. Berger laughed as he walked off the green.
It’s been that kind of week for Berger at the Honda Classic. Even when he thinks he misses a putt, it goes in.
“I thought I was going to be tapping in for bogey, but sometimes you get good breaks, and that was definitely one there,” Berger said.
Not that he needs any luck.
The Jupiter resident had a 1-under 69 Saturday on the Champion Course at PGA National to stretch his lead to five shots entering the final round. That ties for the largest 54-hole lead in the tournament’s 50-year history.
Daniel Berger putts on the 12th green during the third round of The Honda Classic golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Berger is at 11 under 199 to take the five-shot lead over four players: 2019 British Open champion Shane Lowry, Sepp Straka, Kurt Kitayama, and Chris Kirk. Berger was on the verge of playing the day’s only bogey-free round until he inexplicably bogeyed the par-5 18th.
“That was probably a better round than the first two 65s,” Berger said of his score in the first two rounds. “I’m extremely proud of the way I hung in there and battled after not getting off to a good start. The course was a big challenge.”
Berger almost won his hometown Honda Classic the first time he played it, losing in a playoff in 2015. This tournament doesn’t appear to be going down to the wire.
He has made 13 birdies and just two bogeys on the daunting Champion Course at PGA National — the rest of the field is averaging 3.3 bogeys per round — to take control. Berger has been a ball-striking machine; he’s second in the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green.
Lowry knows he has a tough challenge if he wants to win for the first time since the Open victory, especially on the Champion course.
“You can’t really chase anyone down on this golf course,” Lowry said. “You just have to go about your business and try to shoot the best score you can. I think if you start getting too aggressive, that’s where you end up not doing very well. If you can get within two or three of the lead going to 14, 15, you never know what can happen.”
Honda: Sunday tee times
Despite the sizable lead, Berger said he has another stressful day ahead of him as he tries to win his fifth career PGA Tour title. He’s one-of-three in converting 54-hole leads.
“It’s nice to have the advantage, but that can change in one hole out here,” Berger said.
Berger admitted he took for granted playing a rare home game on the PGA Tour, until he missed last year’s Honda Classic when he had to withdraw just before the first day because of a rib injury. He also was unable to defend his title at Pebble Beach recently because of a back injury.
If he wins Sunday, he’s projected to move from 21st in the world rankings to 13th. Berger’s career-best ranking is 12th.
The Champion Course lived up to its nickname Saturday. Lowry shot the lowest round, a 67. By comparison, there were 11 rounds Friday of 67 or lower.
“I was checking the scoring this morning and normally on a Saturday morning on the PGA Tour, somebody shoots 5-, 6-under and makes a move up the leaderboard,” Lowry said. “But nobody was doing that this morning, and I said to myself coming to the course it’s going to be difficult today.”
Chris Kirk plays his shot from the first tee during the third round of The Honda Classic golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Like Berger, Kirk also has four career PGA Tour titles but hasn’t won since 2015. Kirk took a seven-month break from playing golf in 2019 to deal with alcohol and depression issues, but has resurrected his career with four top 10 finishes since.
Kirk has excelled on the greens this week, ranking fourth in the field with 7.37 strokes gained. He made a 31-footer for birdie on the second hole to move within two shots of the lead, but made only one more birdie as Berger started to pull away.
The largest margin of victory in the Honda Classic was five shots, by defending champion Matt Jones, Camilo Villegas (2010), and Jack Nicklaus (1977). Villegas has the lowest score by a winner since the Honda Classic has been held at PGA National — 2007, at 13 under.
Berger has a chance to break those records Sunday, but he’s more interested in having his name engraved on the winner’s trophy.
“My strategy will remain the same,” Berger said. “Fairways and greens and try to roll in a putt here or there.”
Even when you think you missed the putt.