Laird remains in Phoenix lead through 54 holes


SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The leaderboard has tightened up at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but Martin Laird is still on top. Here’s how things look after three rounds at TPC Scottsdale, where the Scot leads by three:

Leaderboard: Laird (-13), Brooks Koepka (-10), Hideki Matsuyama (-10), Zach Johnson (-10), John Rahm (a) (-9), Ryan Palmer (-9), Justin Thomas (-9)

What it means: Laird began the day with a two-shot advantage and he never dropped from the top spot, carding a 3-under 68 to increase his lead after clutch par saves on Nos. 16 and 18. He is in search of his fourth PGA Tour win, and first since 2013, but two of the game’s rising stars and a former major champion are hot on his heels.

Round of the day: Matsuyama was seven shots off the pace to start the day but made a surge up the standings with an 8-under 63. He began with two birdies in his first three holes and ended in style, with five birdies across his final six holes including four in a row on Nos. 15-18.

Best of the rest: Koepka is contending in his first start of 2015 thanks to a 7-under 64 in Round 3. A winner last year in Turkey on the European Tour, Koepka recorded six back-nine birdies while shooting a 30 across his inward half as he looks for his maiden PGA Tour victory.

Biggest disappointment: Daniel Berger will have more chances, but Saturday was a struggle for the rookie. Berger started alone in second place, two shots behind Laird, but fell off the pace with an even-par 71 that included only two birdies. He was the only player among the top 29 who failed to break par during the third round, and at 8 under he now trails by five strokes.

Main storyline heading into Sunday: Laird showed the poise of a veteran playing with the lead during Round 3, and he won’t easily cede a three-shot cushion. Koepka and Matsuyama should give chase, though, as both have won on big stages in the last year and appear to have the game to contend on Tour for years to come.

Shot of the day: Francesco Molinari created a frenzy at the par-3 16th when his pitching wedge from 133 yards landed behind the pin and spun back for a hole-in-one. It was the first ace in competition at No. 16 since 2011, and it propelled Molinari to a third-round 64.

Quote of the day: “I guess tomorrow I will hit it to two feet and I will be booed.” – Molinari on the crowds at No. 16.