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Shriners Open featured groups: Koepka with Woodland, Scott

LAS VEGAS – The PGA Tour returns to Las Vegas for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, where Bryson DeChambeau will look to defend his title against the strongest field of the fall slate. Here are marquee groupings for this week at TPC Summerlin.

7:10 a.m. Thursday, 12 p.m. Friday: Kevin Na, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

The Las Vegas stop was a fixture on Mickelson’s schedule in the 1990s and early 2000s, but he’s been away for 14 years. He’ll make his first start since 2005 as he looks to bounce back from a missed cut in Napa and make a late case for a Presidents Cup pick. Finau is making his sixth straight start in the desert and is likewise looking to impress captain Tiger Woods in his season debut. Na won this event in 2011 and lost in a seven-way playoff in 2015 but has otherwise missed the cut or withdrawn in four of his last five trips to Summerlin. 

7:20 a.m. Thursday, 12:10 p.m. Friday: Brooks Koepka, Gary Woodland, Adam Scott

World No. 1 Koepka is making his season debut and returns to the Shriners after two years away. From 2013-2016, he recorded a runner-up, a tie for fourth and two missed cuts. The reigning U.S. Open champ Woodland was T-18 and T-10 in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and rounded out last year’s event with a final-round 63. Scott spent his brief college career at nearby UNLV and is playing this event for the first time.

12 p.m. Thursday, 7:10 a.m. Friday: Joaquin Niemann, Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa

A trio of newly minted PGA Tour winners all aged 22 or younger. Wolff took last season’s 3M Open, Morikawa the Barracuda, and Niemann this season’s Sanderson Farms. All three players managed to wrap up full-time status on Tour in limited starts as non-members, with Niemann doing so via points in 2017-18. Wolff is making his season debut, which Morikawa got out of the way last week with a top-10 in Napa. 

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 7:20 a.m. Friday: Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson

A collection of three past champions and the last two winners here at Summerlin. DeChambeau edged Cantlay last year thanks in large part to a late eagle at the par-5 16th. He was the only player keeping Cantlay from a successful defense of his maiden PGA Tour victory, which he earned in a wind-swept playoff with Alex Cejka and Whee Kim back in 2017. Simpson rolled to a six-shot victory and a 24-under total back in 2013.

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On a roll: Na rides hot putter to 54-hole Shriners lead, but Cantlay lurks

LAS VEGAS – Kevin Na has been so brilliant on the greens the last two days that he actually had to justify why he only made 177 feet worth of putts Saturday.

You know, compared to Friday’s 202 and an inch.

“I hit it closer,” he said. “That’s probably why.”

Good answer.

After rounds of 68-62-61, Na leads the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open by two at TPC Summerlin, where he just set a new 54-hole tournament scoring record of 191.

On Sunday, he’ll take a shot at winning is fourth PGA Tour title and at rewriting the circuit’s record book. With 445 feet worth of putts made so far this week, he needs 107 more to set a new record and pass Ben Martin’s 551 feet from the 2015 Charles Schwab Challenge, the highest total since the Tour began keeping track in 2003.

Na’s weapon of choice since the Masters has been an Odyssey Toulon Madison model with a graphite shaft. It’s the same putter he won with earlier this year at Colonial. So, why graphite?

“It’s a very stiff shaft,” he explained. It’s stiffer than steel, and it’s helped me and given me the consistency of good speed. … When you hit good putts at a good speed, you’re using the whole hole.”

Asked back-to-back questions about the putter, he had to interject:

“How about giving me some credit?” he implored.

Of course, when it came to his short miss for birdie at the par-5 16th, he took a different tact.

“[Caddie Kenny Harms] had a bad read,” he joked.

Na (61) sets Shriners 54-hole scoring record with 445(!) feet worth of putts made

Na (61) sets Shriners 54-hole scoring record with 445(!) feet worth of putts made

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Na is now 18 holes from his fourth win, his third in the last three seasons and his second in 2019. He similarly took the 54-hole lead back in 2011, when he broke through for the first time. He also converted earlier this year at Colonial. But in total, he’s 2-for-7 closing. And with the scores TPC Summerlin is yielding – the third-round scoring average was 67.75 Saturday – he’s not going to have the luxury of playing defense.

Not with another past Shriners champ like Patrick Cantlay giving chase.

Two back, Cantlay won this event in a playoff two years ago and was runner-up last year to Bryson DeChambeau. Las Vegas has become his personal playground, although he says he doesn’t go out much – just to dinner, really.

While Na has been torching the greens, Cantlay has been leading the field on the way there. He’s first in strokes gained: off the tee, second tee-to-green, and first in driving distance.

“I just didn’t make any of those 15-, 20-, 25-footers,” he acknowledged.

If those start dropping on Sunday, and Na cools off even a little, then it might be Cantlay who walks away a two-time Shriners champ.

It’s tempting to think of this as a two-man race, but six players shot 63 or better Saturday. Na and Cantlay will have a nice head start, but that’s about it.

“I’ve still got to keep the pedal to the metal,” Na said “A lot of low scores out here. Anybody can shoot 8 or 9 under.”

You saw today … 8-, 9-, 10-under is totally possible around here,” Cantlay echoed. “The lead is at 22. It will probably take around 26-27 under par, I would imagine. Get to a number like that, and you’ll probably be in a good spot.”

As comfortable as Cantlay has proven himself here in Vegas, it’s Na who is the local resident. He’s been leaving tickets for friends all week and will play tomorrow in front of his family, which includes a recent addition.

“It would mean a lot, especially with having a newborn, my son Leo,” Na said. “I won in front of [my daughter] Sophia, so it would be nice if I could get another W in front of both of them.”

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Na (61) ties career low on Moving Day, leads Cantlay by two in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Kevin Na made 10 birdies on Saturday, and the one putt that came to his mind after matching his best score was a par.

Na was in a bunker right of the green on the par-3 fifth hole, and he blasted out some 20 feet by the hole leaving a par putt with about 6 feet of break. He made the putt for par and was on his way.

”I thought that was the biggest putt today,” Na said.

He finished with three birdies on the last four holes for a 10-under 61, tying his personal best on the PGA Tour. It gave him the 54-hole record in the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and a two-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay.

”Somebody asked me that yesterday. They said, ‘Do you feel like over the ball you’re just going to make everything?’ No, it’s not that,” Na said. ”I feel comfortable and I feel confident. And all I’m trying to do is hit good putts.”

They’re ending up in the right spots. Na has gained about 5.5 strokes on the field in putting in his last two rounds of 62 on Friday and 61 on Saturday. He finished at 22-under 191.

Na lives in Las Vegas and captured his first PGA Tour title at this tournament in 2011. He was pumping his fist after every putt down the stretch at the TPC Summerlin, which yielded six scores of 63 or better and produced an average score of 67.75.

Cantlay was staying with him until he failed to get up-and-down from a bunker on the reachable par-4 15th and made bogey from the bunker on the par-3 17th. He closed with a 15-foot birdie putt for a 63.

Cantlay won the tournament two years ago and was runner-up last year. He wasn’t bothered by sharing the lead going into the third round, shooting 63 and finishing two shots behind.

”It’s a four-round tournament. It’s what I expect out here,” Cantlay said. ”Everybody can shoot the lights off this place, especially with the weather like it was today. That’s the attitude for tomorrow. I know it’s going to take a lot of birdies. Fortunately, that’s an attitude I’m comfortable with, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

Na (61): I feel comfortable, confident and had a little luck out there

Na (61): I feel comfortable, confident and had a little luck out there

Shriners Hospitals for Children Open: Full-field scores | Full coverage

Pat Perez had a 62 and was four shots behind. Sam Ryder (64) and Lucas Glover (66) were another shot back.

Conditions were warm and calm, ideal for scoring and it showed. Tony Finau had a 62 to take the lead as the final groups were teeing off. He finished the day seven shots behind. Denny McCarthy and Luke List each posted 63.

”It’s hard to look at some of those numbers when you haven’t even teed off – you see 8s and 9s (under) out there – and not play impatient,” Ryder said after a bogey on the 18th for his 64.

Na and Cantlay came out firing.

Na has been doing his damage on the greens.

He doesn’t see any change for Sunday, when he goes for his second victory of the year. Na won at Colonial in May.

”Still got to keep the pedal to the metal. Anyone can shoot 8 or 9 under,” Na said. ”I believe we’re going to get a little more wind tomorrow. Got to go out and post a good number.”

Na also shot 61 in the 2010 Wyndham Championship and at Colonial in 2018. He posted this number despite settling for par on the 16th hole, the par 5 over water that played as the easiest on the TPC Summerlin. His tee shot was blocked by a tree and he had to lay up short of the water, but he hit wedge to a tight pin on the front of the green to about 4 feet.

Cantlay had six birdies on the tougher front nine – none longer than the 8-foot range, three of them tap-ins – for the lead. Na played in the group ahead, made birdie on the 10th to tie and then pulled away in the final hour.

Na drove to the back of the 15th green and converted the long two-putt birdie from just off the green with a 6-footer. Cantlay put it in the right bunker and missed his 8-foot birdie putt. That was the separation Na needed, and he stretched it with a pair of closing birdies.

Low scores weren’t available to just anyone. Phil Mickelson started the third round just four shots behind and was 5 over through 11 holes. He rallied with a few birdies to salvage a 74.

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