Strong Saturday gives James Hahn another chance to win Byron Nelson heading into final day
MCKINNEY, Texas – James Hahn enters Sunday’s final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson in contention – a spot that feels both familiar given his past at the Nelson, and unfamiliar given his play over the last handful of years.
When he went to bed Friday night eight shots behind leader Sebastian Munoz, Hahn didn’t expect to be in that spot just 24 short hours later. But after an 11-under round of 61 on moving day, Hahn passed or caught up to all but three of the 37 players ahead of him on the leaderboard Friday night.
“I feel like it just played easy out there for me,” Hahn said of the course at TPC Craig Ranch. “But every day someone is shooting 9-, 10-under, so I just felt like ‘Why not me?’ "
Hahn credited course conditions and moved-up tee boxes for his career-best round on Saturday, but he also said an impromptu putting lesson from TPC Craig Ranch Director of Golf Ronnie O’Brien after Friday’s round paid major dividends.
“That definitely helped out a lot,” he said. “Felt a little more confident over the ball. And ended up making some good saves and some birdies on the back nine.”
Hahn did all of his damage on the final 15 holes on Saturday. After an innocuous par-par-par start, Hahn birdied five of the final six holes on the front nine. He had a similar stretch on the back nine, going -6 on holes 12-18 after two pars at 10 and 11. Hahn’s 61 was the second-best round ever shot at TPC Craig Ranch, with 54-hole leader Sebastian Munoz’s opening-round 60 having top honors.
Despite being ranked No. 290 in the current world rankings and being far from a household name to golf fans, this will be the third time Hahn heads into a final round at the Nelson with a chance to win the title. He was the solo leader going into the final round of the final Nelson held at TPC Four Seasons in 2017. That year, he led eventual winner Billy Horschel by one shot and both Jason Day and Jason Kokrak by two. He ended up finishing in third place, one shot out of a playoff between Horschel and Day.
Three years earlier, Hahn was just one shot behind co-leaders Louis Oosthuizen and Brendon Todd. He ultimately finished in a tie for 5th, five shots behind Todd.
Hahn only has one career top-3 finish since his third-place finish at the 2017 Nelson, a second-place finish at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January of 2018. Prior to a t-9th finish at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship, Hahn had missed eight cuts in his last 10 starts.
LOW SCORES CONTINUE: Last year’s Nelson was the only tournament on the PGA Tour schedule that yielded more than 2,000 birdies (2,007). This year’s Nelson is on pace to shatter last year’s mark. Through three rounds, there have been 1,779 birdies made. If Saturday’s mark of 445 birdies is replicated on Sunday, this year’s Nelson is on pace to have 2,224 birdies made.
And it’s not just birdies showing up as red numbers on players’ scorecards. There have been plenty of eagle sightings in McKinney this week, too.
Through two rounds, there were 69 recorded eagles at the Nelson. That was the most for any event on Tour in just shy of 40 years. With a smaller field on Saturday after Friday’s cut, the Saturday eagle contribution was a more modest 20. That still puts the tournament on pace to comfortably reach triple digits in eagles for the week, something that hasn’t been seen on tour in decades.
“The course is playing very easy, I think it’s very obvious and apparent of that,” said Justin Thomas, who is playing in his first Nelson since 2015. “But you know what you’re getting into when you come here, it’s very open, a lot of short clubs and with the greens rolling this well you know if you’re putting it well you can make it from about anywhere. So you just kind of have to just keep your head down and just keep trying to make birdies.”
This week’s 5-under cut matched the lowest this season on the PGA Tour in relation to par.
“I was shocked that they just said, ‘You know what? We’re just going to lean into these low scores and see who can kind of shoot the lowest.’ " Jordan Spieth said. “It’s exciting for the fans. For us, you would like to see the course show a little bit of teeth.”
TEE TIMES: Sunday’s final round will be played in threesomes and groups will start on both nines. All players will be on the course by 11:30 am.
Starting with Dustin Johnson’s group at 10:20 am, five of the final eight groups to tee off on Sunday will have at least one top-20 golfer in the world in it.