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Pick a winner? It's as uncertain as the wind

J.J. Spaun in Rd. 3 of the Shriners Open.
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LAS VEGAS – The wind is going to blow in somebody’s favor Sunday at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Or maybe it will just go ahead and blow every last player off this leaderboard.

Gusts of more than 30 miles per hour whipped through TPC Summerlin on Saturday, growing stronger as the afternoon wore on and making life hard those who were foolish enough to play well for the first two days, thus earning a late tee time.

When the final group finally completed the third round – after shooting a combined 18 over par – J.J. Spaun looked mentally spent. He just kept shaking his head.

“On my second shot at 16, I laid up. On my third shot, we had a 104 yards, and I hit … pitching wedge,” he said, still a little stunned. “My pitching wedge flies about 145.

“And I had to flight it, too. If I had hit it high, it would have been in the water. It’s definitely a 40 – a 40-yard wind.”

With similar conditions expected Sunday, and with the wind gaining in strength each afternoon, the chase for the Shriners title seems wide open.


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“Oh yeah,” Spaun agreed. “You could have someone at 3 under shoot – I mean, if it’s anything like this, it’s just anyone’s game.”

Through 54 holes, Spaun sits tied atop the leaderboard with Beau Hossler at 9 under. Those two will be joined in Sunday’s final group by Tony Finau, three back. Another 15 guys are within six shots.

Spaun and Hossler are both looking for their first PGA Tour victories, with the latter, at 22 years old, looking to become the latest young phenom to eschew the learning curve.

Hossler is likely best remembered for leading the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club as a 17-year-old high schooler. He went on to play college golf for Texas and helped lead the team to the finals of the 2016 NCAA Championship, although an ill-timed shoulder injury suffered in the semifinals kept him out of the championship match.

Now fully healed, Hossler appears ready to re-emerge.

“You see so many young guys – whether they’re 26 or 22 or 24 – having a lot of success, winning not just small events but winning big tournaments, winning majors. That absolutely inspires my generation to feel like we can go out and compete at the highest level.”

While Spaun and Hossler try to win for the first time, Finau is eyeing his second PGA Tour title, following his breakthrough last year in Puerto Rico. Though he at first agreed that his experience should prove an advantage, the longer he talked, the more he seemed to think otherwise.

“I think what we’re learning in our game now is these guys are coming out ready to win,” he said. “There is no edge, I think, because these guys know they can play.”

And Finau, like Spaun, seems prepared for just about anything on Sunday.

“If it’s going to be the same conditions tomorrow, you just never know what’s going to happen,” he said.

Whoever makes their way through the wind Sunday will surely have earned all that is coming to him – and it’s quite a haul.

In addition to the trophy and the winner’s check, Sunday’s champion will earn 500 FedExCup points, PGA Tour membership through the 2019-20 season, and exemptions into next year’s Masters, Players, and PGA Championship.

But who wins – and at what score – now seems up to Mother Nature. If you’re interested in gambling on a long shot, well, welcome to Vegas.

“We never know what the winning score is going to be,” said Finau. “It came down a shot or two today. It may even do that tomorrow. You just never know. When the golf course is playing like this, and with what we have on the line, I think it’s going to be a great Sunday. I’m looking forward to being in the thick of it tomorrow.”