Tom Kim tied for 54-hole lead in Shriners Open title defense

Tom Kim tied for 54-hole lead in Shriners Open title defense
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LAS VEGAS — Defending champion Tom Kim felt the vibes and found his groove Saturday in Las Vegas with a 9-under 62 that gave him a three-way share of the lead in the Shriners Children’s Open and a chance to win the same tournament twice in one season.

It was the second straight year Kim had a 62 in the third round at the TPC Summerlin. It led to a playoff victory over Patrick Cantlay last year in what was the early part of the season. Now it’s technically the same season before the PGA Tour goes back to a calendar year.

Adam Hadwin played bogey-free — he had more birdies on the par 3s than the par 5s — for a 63 to catch Kim. Joining them was a late arrival in so many ways — Lanto Griffin, who was tied for the 36-hole lead and didn’t make a birdie until the 13th hole.

That was the start of three birdies in a four-hole stretch that led to a 68 and allowed Griffin to share the lead at 15-under 198.

This was hardly a three-man race going into the final round. K.H. Lee (66) was among three players on shot back. In all, 14 players were within three shots of the lead. That includes J.T. Poston and Canadian Open champion Nick Taylor, a small consolation to both of them.

Poston hit a superb bunker shot on the 15th to 5 feet for birdie that allowed him to tie for the lead. He was 209 yards away on the par-5 16th, poised for birdie at worst. And then it all fell apart with one swing and one decision.

His shot landed on the bank of the green and hopped back into the water. Instead of going to the drop zone some 95 yards away in the fairway, Poston chose to drop in the right rough for a better angle at the bank left pin. But then his wedge came out heavy, caromed twice off the rocks framing the green and back into the water.

This time, he went to the drop zone and hit it to 15 feet.

“Should have done that the first (expletive) time,” Poston could be heard saying. He missed the putt, giving it a sarcastic thumbs-up as it was drifting right of the hole, and took triple bogey.

He closed with a birdie for a 68 and was in the large group at 13-under.

Taylor was within one shot of the lead when he failed to birdie the par-5 16th. On the par-3 17th, he hung his head when his tee shot was in the air, knowing anything too far left would catch a slope and roll into the water, and that’s what it did. He took a double bogey, had to settle for a 69 and was among those at 12-under 201.

Kim, the 21-year-old South Korean who was raised primarily in Australia, was a two-time winner last year. He did not defend his title in the Wyndham Championship while resting an ankle injury suffered during The Open. That makes Las Vegas his first PGA Tour title defense, and he is enjoying it.

“It’s actually pretty cool,” Kim said. “Just the vibe, feeling like you won this event last year, and I feel like because you won, you have the positive vibes and you kind of relive that winning moment. … ”Just to be able to come back — especially now near the leaderboard — at least I have a chance on Sunday.”

Hadwin had one of only seven birdies on the 17th, holing a 30-footer that capped off a 63. The Canadian is playing for the first time since the BMW Championship in August and said he felt more rejuvenated than rusty. He finished among the top 50 in the FedEx Cup and is already in all the $20 million events next year.

But he is No. 56 in the world ranking. The top 50 at the end of the year get into the Masters.

For Griffin, it’s a chance to show he’s fully healthy after a series of injuries — back surgery last July, and then a rib injury when he tried to return. He showed up at just the right time Saturday with the late birdies.

“Not making a birdie until 13 on a course that everybody is going low and making birdies on, it’s nice to get a couple early, kind of settle yourself down, and that didn’t happen today,” Griffin said. “But making only pars isn’t the end of the world, either.”

No need to tell that to Cameron Champ. He was tied for the 36-hole and had a triple bogey early that sent him to a 74 and a tie for 24th.

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