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USA Today Sports Media Group
Adam Schupak

Rickie Fowler leads, Keegan Bradley has an even longer victory drought, and Sahith Theegala goes low at Zozo Championship

The Zozo Championship has been played in Japan only twice but so far has developed a reputation for storybook finishes. There was Tiger Woods winning his 82nd (and most recent) PGA Tour title to tie Sam Snead on the all-time career win list. Then last year, Hideki Matsuyama claimed the title in his homeland to the delight of a golf-mad country. Could we be in store for another popular winner on Sunday?

That would be the case if Rickie Fowler were to claim his first Tour victory since 2019. Fowler, who has dropped to No. 160 in the world during his slump, is a fan favorite wherever he plays but with his Japanese roots, he’d be the next best thing to Matsuyama or one of the 15 other Japanese golfers in the field clutching the trophy on Sunday.

Here’s what you missed if you didn’t stay up over night to watch the third round at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba Prefecture.

Rickie don't lose that number

Rickie Fowler tees off during the third round of the 2022 Zozo Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Inzai, Chiba prefecture. (Photo by YUICHI YAMAZAKI/AFP via Getty Images)

Rickie Fowler is 18 holes away from ending a victory drought on the PGA Tour that dates to the 2019 WM Phoenix Open. Fowler fired a 4-under 66 on Saturday and holds a one-stroke lead over Keegan Bradley.

Playing on a sponsor’s invite in the 78-man field, Fowler built a three-stroke lead through 14 holes and had gone 36 consecutive holes without a bogey until he lipped out from 8 feet at 15. That dropped shot combined with a Bradley birdie moments before cut Fowler’s lead to one, but he closed with a birdie after a poor drive and looks to be in control of his iron play this week and has rediscovered his touch on the greens.

Fowler, who improved to 14-under 196, isn’t going to be picky about getting back into the winner’s circle as he bids for his sixth Tour title, but the popular pro is a fan favorite in Chiba, Japan due to his Japanese roots. Fowler’s middle name, Yutaka, comes from his maternal grandfather, who is Japanese and was taken with his family to a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming during World War II.

Fowler’s track record with the 54-hole lead is nothing to brag about: he’s converted just two of nine times (2017 Honda Classic and the 2019 WM Phoenix Open).

“It will be tough tomorrow, but also fun. I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “I’m going to have to play well and continue to do what I’ve been doing the last three days. Keegan, Putty on down the list, there’s plenty of guys within a few shots. I’m out front, in control, but that can change if I don’t execute like I have been.”

Bradley's win drought is longer

Keegan Bradley celebrates his birdie on the 9th green during the third round of the 2022 ZOZO Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Inzai, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Keegan Bradley overcame a sluggish start to shoot 4-under 66 on Saturday.

Bradley, 36, actually has a longer victory drought than Fowler. Bradley hasn’t hoisted a trophy since the 2018 BMW Championship, but he’s in position to do so at the Zozo, trailing by one stroke heading into the final round.

Bradley made bogey at the first hole and didn’t get the stroke back until making birdie at the fifth hole.

“That kind of calmed me down a little bit,” he said.

Bradley added back-to-back birdies at Nos. 8 and 9. Fowler led by as many as three but Bradley cut into his deficit by draining a 25-foot downhill birdie at 15 and closed with a birdie at 18.

Bradley was grouped with Tiger Woods in the final round of the 2019 Zozo Championship when Woods collected his 82nd and most recent title. What would a win on Sunday mean to Bradley?

“It would be amazing,” he said. “It would mean a lot to me to do that tomorrow.”

Putnam finally makes a bogey

Andrew Putnam lines up his putt on the 8th green during the third round of the 2022 ZOZO Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Inzai, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Andrew Putnam was bogey-free through 36 holes, but his streak didn’t last long in Saturday’s third round. Putnam finally dropped a shot at the second hole at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club. He would make one more bogey in the round at No. 9, but sprinkled in four birdies on the day, including nearly chipping in at 18, to shoot 2-under 68.

Putnam, 33, is seeking his second Tout title and first since the 2018 Barracuda Championship. Just like Bradley, Putnam has a longer winless streak than Fowler and he’ll head into the final round in Japan alone in third place at 12-under 198.





Viktor's lurking

INZAI, JAPAN – OCTOBER 15: Viktor Hovland of Norway hits his tee shot on the 3rd hole during the third round of the 2022 ZOZO Championship at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Inzai, Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Viktor Hovland started with a pair of birdies and finished with an eagle. It didn’t hurt that he hit all 18 greens in regulation on Saturday. It added up to 6-under 64 and has the 25-year-old Norwegian tied for third at 11-under 199.

Hovland, ranked No. 11 in the world, could be dangerous in the final round if his ball striking remains solid and he stays dialed in on the greens. His 64 on Saturday was his low round of the week. He closed with an eagle after lofting a 7-wood into the middle of the green and sinking a 40-foot eagle putt.

“I had such a great start to my round today,” Hovland said. “Being 4 under through nine, you’re obviously looking to try to shoot 6, 7 under. Then I three-putted 12 and missed a couple of birdie looks on 13 and 14 and felt like the round was going downhill a little bit, but after a nice birdie on 15, kind of revised the round a little bit. Obviously with the eagle on the last, that’s a nice way to end it.”

Theegala's first 29

Sahith Theegala reacts after teeing off during the third round of the 2022 Zozo Championship golf tournament at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Inzai, Chiba prefecture. (Photo by YUICHI YAMAZAKI/AFP via Getty Images)

The big mover on Moving Day was Sahith Theegala, who signed for 7-under 63 on Saturday, the low round of the day.

At just 2 under through the opening two rounds, Theegala teed off on the back nine and poured in seven birdies to shoot 29 on his opening nine.

“I’ve never shot 7 under in nine holes,” Theegala said. “I definitely felt like I had a couple, like I made like a 25-footer on 11 and it felt kind of a bonus. Yeah, I played really well on the front nine. I actually parred, I made like a six-footer for par on the first par 5, so that’s a hole that a ton of people are going to have birdie looks at. So if I’m being really picky, I guess I could have gotten one more there, but no, I played incredible that back nine, for sure.”

When Theegala made birdie at the second hole he was 8-under through 11 holes and flirting with shooting a sub-60 round until he made double bogey at No. 4.

“It was a lot of fun,” Theegala said after his round. “I made a couple nice putts early and then I started hitting some shots really close that I didn’t really try to, but we had some good numbers and it’s just one of those days where the numbers are right and I kind of fired at some pins…I think it’s probably playing as easy as it can out here because this is a tough course, but conditions are soft and I thought some of the pins are accessible, so definitely feel like I took advantage.”

Theegala made it to East Lake as a rookie last season and is still seeking his first win on the PGA Tour. He improved to 9-under 201, tied for eighth, and trails Rickie Fowler by five strokes heading into the final round.

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