JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Patrick Reed handled the strong gusts and a Liberty National course starting to dry out with a 4-under 67 that gave him a one-shot lead over Abraham Ancer of Mexico going into the final round of The Northern Trust.
Reed has not won since the 2018 Masters, though it hasn’t been a lack of trying. He has played 41 times worldwide since his major victory, including a pair of team events. He says he is getting closer and just needs some good scores, and he has them this week.
“It’s close and it feels good,” Reed said. “Feels like this has been coming for some time, and now it’s just go out and stick to the game plan tomorrow and hopefully Sunday we have a chance to win the golf tournament.”
Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, playing in the final group, faltered.
Johnson, twice a winner of this FedEx Cup playoffs opener, didn’t make a birdie until the 10th hole, and then saw his round fall apart with four bogeys over the last six holes for a 74 that dropped him five shots behind.
Spieth began his round by hitting his tee shot into the water, lost ground and momentum with a sloppy double bogey — his first of the week — from the fairway on No. 7 and recorded only two birdies in his round of 74. It was his second straight Saturday swoon, and this one could be costly. He is No. 69 in the FedEx Cup, and a strong finish this week could help salvage his season with a trip to East Lake for the FedEx Cup finale.
He still has one round left and a big crowd in front of him.
Reed was at 14-under 199 and will be paired in the final group with Ancer, who had a 68 as he tries to deliver good golf at the right time.
Ancer, who won the Australian Open late last year, is No. 67 in the FedEx Cup. The top 70 advance to the BMW Championship next week at Medinah, but a good finish could sew up a spot in the Tour Championship and make him eligible for all the majors next year.
There’s more. He is No. 10 in the Presidents Cup standings, and Sunday could go a long way in returning to Australia as part of the International team.
“The only thing I have to worry about is still play some good golf tomorrow and that will take care of itself,” Ancer said. “I’m trying not to think about that that much. I know it’s there and I obviously think about it, but I’m just focusing on trying to do everything I can to just play a good, solid round tomorrow.”
A dozen players were separated by five shots going into the final round.
Brandt Snedeker had a pair of eagles in his round of 63 that left him two shots behind, along with Jon Rahm of Spain, who had a 69. Justin Rose was among those another shot behind, with Rory McIlroy finishing with two birdies over his last three holes for a 70 to get within four shots of the lead.
Reed is No. 50 in the FedEx Cup and trying to extend his streak of making the Tour Championship every year since 2014. He won this event three years ago at Bethpage Black, and then hit a drought before winning the Masters in 2018.
There was nothing fancy about his golf, which is how he likes it. He poured in an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3, used his short game to secure birdies on the par 5s and finished with a wedge to 10 feet for his fifth birdie on No. 17.
His biggest trouble was on the 15th hole, where he went from a fairway bunker into the trees right of the fairway, hit to the back of the green some 65 feet away from the front pin and had to hole a 5-foot putt to escape with bogey.
He said changing to a softer golf ball might have helped. He did that last Sunday and closed with a 63 at the Wyndham Championship, and then followed with rounds of 66-66-67.
“It’s going the right direction,” he said. “I feel like I’m doing a lot of things well. I just need to go out and give myself opportunities.”
The Presidents Cup is on his mind, too.
Reed has played for every U.S. team dating to 2014. He is No. 17 in the U.S. standings, though a victory would only move him to No. 12. The top eight after the BMW Championship automatically qualify.
If he was thinking about that Saturday, it was because of the location. The last Presidents Cup was at Liberty National two years ago.
“Probably more in the back of my mind here because it was here in 2017 and seeing the Statue of Liberty,” Reed said. “Definitely in the back of my mind, but the biggest thing is to go out and may solid golf and continue playing well, because the end of the day, the way you make it on the team is by playing good golf.”
Bryson DeChambeau wasted no time defending himself against accusations of slow play Saturday after harsh criticism on social media stemming from a video showing him taking more than two minutes to hit an 8-foot putt.
Among those who criticized him on Twitter was Eddie Pepperell of England, who is not at The Northern Trust because he’s not a PGA Tour member. He referred to DeChambeau as “the unaffected single minded twit” who doesn’t care much for others.
Rich Beem, a former PGA champion who works for British-based Sky Sports, said he was outraged as a PGA Tour member that protecting the field should include penalizing or disqualifying this kind of behavior.
DeChambeau said the putt in question Friday was difficult to judge because it looked different than what the greens book indicated, and his caddie called him off the putt at one point.
More disturbing was the attacks on social media.
“When people start talking to me about slow play and how I’m killing the game, I’m doing this-and-that to the game, that is complete and utter … you-know what,” he said. “That’s not fair.”
DeChambeau shot an even-par 71 on Saturday and was tied for 24th. After signing his card, he hopped onto a stage in front of the microphone and said loudly, “Let’s talk about slow play, guys.” He then spoke for more than two minutes stating his case.
Some of it was a repeat from his complaints at the Memorial, where he received a bad time for taking too long over his second shot into the par-5 fifth. He said caddies play a role in the pace of play, and that the PGA Tour should change its policy to include how long it takes to walk to the next shot.
The tour policy allows for one minute for the first player hitting a particular shot — from the tee, the fairway, around the green — and 40 seconds for everyone else. Warning, bad times or even penalties are not issued unless the group is out of position.
DeChambeau believes he’s being singled out because of his approach to the game, which includes contemplating air density, wind direction and other factors. He says he runs into a problem such as that 8-foot putt about 1 percent of the time.
He was playing with Justin Thomas and Tommy Fleetwood of England, who stood to the side of the green as DeChambeau looked at the putt from both sides, studied his greens book, backed off the putt and after more than two minutes, missed it, anyway.
Thomas, responding to a thread involving LPGA player Christina Kim and former British Open champion Paul Lawrie, added that it was “hard to watch,” using an emoji of a clock for the last word.
“I should have said something in person,” Thomas said. “I like Bryson as a person, but he’s a slow golfer.”
Thomas added it wasn’t just DeChambeau who plays slowly, “it’s a lot of people.” Just last month, J.B. Holmes was singled out for his pace at the British Open, and earlier at the Genesis Open when he won at Riviera.
Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy weighed in on pace of play earlier in the week when they were asked questions, though the topic has been going on for years.
“It’s so hard to get a perfect system,” Thomas said, adding that it comes up at every Player Advisory Council meeting. But when asked if there was any validity to DeChambeau saying the amount of time allowed players should include how quickly they walked to the ball, Thomas disagreed.
“I think there’s absolutely none,” he said. “We were still a hole-and-a-half behind, so obviously it’s not working. You don’t get timed how fast you walk to the ball.”
DeChambeau was most bothered by the attacks on social media.
“I play a different way out there,” he said. “I take my 40 seconds that’s allotted, sometimes over — absolutely. Totally agree. It’s maybe 5% of the time. But I’ll tell you that it’s really kind of unfortunate the way it’s perceived because there’s a lot of other guys that take a lot of time. They don’t talk about this matter and for me personally, it is an attack and it is something that is not me whatsoever.
“People don’t realize the harm that they are doing to the individuals.”
He said he saw the comments before getting to the course and it bothered him. DeChambeau said players have been nice to him and he has not issues with them.
“But when you start personally attacking people on Twitter, it’s like, ‘Come on, dude. Let’s have some more (guts) to come up and speak to me to my face about that,” DeChambeau said.