Twelve players touched the lead at some point during the third round of the 2023 Sony Open on Saturday. Exchanging hands multiple times, it ultimately fell into the lap of Hayden Buckley who stands at 15 under after a round of 6-under 64 on Moving Day. In possession of a two-stroke lead, the PGA Tour sophomore will get a taste of his first round of contention in his 2023 debut.
A member of the final group in the final round of a PGA Tour event for the first time in his career, there are sure to be some nervy moments for Buckley, the overnight leader. With some uncertainty surrounding how he will take to the situation, the rest of the field — namely his Sunday playing competitors David Lipsky and Ben Taylor at 13 under — will be chomping at the bit if Buckley is to slip.
Friday’s overnight leader, Chris Kirk, will headline the penultimate group and also sits at 13 under after a round of 2-under 68. Beginning his day by hitting his tee shot out of bounds, the former Georgia Bulldog showed resolve and is still with an opportunity to win his first PGA Tour title since 2015.
Former Players Championship winner Si Woo Kim stands at 12 under after a nice round of 6-under 64 on Saturday. However, the round of the tournament belongs to Andrew Putnam who catapulted himself back into the thick of things with an 8-under 62. For his efforts, Putnam will join Kirk and Kim and the penultimate group at 12 under.
1. Hayden Buckley (-15)
Not one, but two back-nine eagles propelled Buckley into the solo lead as he holed out from roughly 130 yards on the par-4 10th and lasered a 5 iron on the par-5 finishing hole to set up his second eagle of the day. Outside of these two moments, the rest of his round was relatively pedestrian as he peppered fairways and greens and settled for pars with a smile on his face. This same strategy could pay dividends in a big way as those behind him are forced to chase birdies.
“Nothing changes. Obviously the situation is huge, but nothing really changes,” Buckley said of his first 54-hole lead. “I know the conditions might be a little bit tougher tomorrow, so I’ll just be patient. But, yeah, our strategy stays the same. We try our best to keep the ball in the fairway because that’s where we can play well. We feel like anywhere inside of 180 almost from the fairway is almost scoring for us, and so we do what we can to get the ball in the fairway, and when we have looks, if they go in, they go. If they don’t, we just deal with it.”
T2. David Lipsky, Ben Taylor, Chris Kirk (-13)
T5. Andrew Putnam, Si Woo Kim (-12)
T7. Will Gordon, Nat Lashley (-11)
T9. Ben Griffin, Maverick McNealy, J.T. Poston, Austin Eckroat, Taylor Montgomery (-10)
At last year’s Sony Open, Hideki Matsuyama went 63-63 over the weekend to chase down Russell Henley. After Saturday’s round, Putnam is a prime candidate to follow in the defending champion’s footsteps. Holding the second-longest active streak of made cuts on the PGA Tour, the 33-year-old is in the midst of some quality form. Still without a victory, Putnam nearly broke through at the Zozo Championship but ultimately fell one stroke short of Keegan Bradley.
“I was playing great,” Putnam said. “Played great on the front my first nine. Think I was 5 under. Couple loose swings, couple bogeys that I typically don’t make, and then the putter heated up. Made some long putts. Pretty sure my strokes gained putting is pretty high for this round. Seemed to be a lot easier. Breeze wasn’t really up. Yesterday afternoon it was blowing just the normal tradewinds. Today, yeah, it was gettable, so expecting some good scores.”
Other shots of the day
We’ll kick things off with Lipsky’s approach into the par-4 16th. With the ball below his feet in the fairway bunker, Lipsky hit his approach to tap-in distance and momentarily put himself into the outright lead. This shot could have gone a number of ways and a kick-in birdie was certainly near the bottom of my list of potential outcomes.
Next, we go to Kirk who was in need of a birdie after making a bogey the hole prior on No. 13. Losing his approach shot right, Kirk short-sided himself and was faced with a downhill bunker shot to a tucked pin. It may not have looked severe from the television angle, but this shot was flat-out filthy and showed some serious hand speed through impact.
2023 Sony Open updated odds and picks
- Hayden Buckley: 19/10
- Chris Kirk: 6-1
- David Lipsky: 7-1
- Si Woo Kim: 8-1
- Ben Taylor: 8-1
- Andrew Putnam: 10-1
- Will Gordon: 25-1
- Taylor Montgomery: 35-1
- J.T. Poston: 35-1
- Maverick McNealy: 40-1
- Nate Lashley: 50-1
- Ben Griffin: 70-1
- S.H. Lee: 80-1
- K.H. Lee: 90-1
Buckley’s approach numbers from Saturday will be skewed due to his hole-out eagle and near albatross on the last, but it is another aspect of his game which makes me believe he seals the deal Sunday. Sitting 11th in Driving Accuracy through 54 holes, the Mizzou product leads all those inside the top five in terms of these statistics. With the conditions likely to toughen and fairways continuing to be a premium, I expect Buckley’s off-the-tee presence to carry him to his first PGA Tour victory.
Rick Gehman and Greg DuCharme recap Saturday’s action at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.