There’s no question Sweden’s Alex Noren is a rising star in golf. Just look at his last two seasons on the European Tour, where he’s won nine times in his career, six of those coming since 2015. Yet he hasn’t had much success on the PGA Tour, albeit in limited appearances.
Noren can change that this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he shot a third-round three-under 69 on the South Course at Torrey Pines on Saturday, giving him a one-stroke lead at 11-under 205. It’s his first career 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, coming in just his 36th start.
“It’s obviously a new thing, playing more over here, for me,” said Noren, who isn’t entirely unfamiliar with playing in the U.S., having been an All-American at Oklahoma State in the early 2000s, “but it’s still golf and I’ve been nervous before and I’m a little bit nervous coming into tomorrow.”
The 35-year-old might say he’s nervous, but it’s a position he’s put himself in many times internationally, and he’s often converted. In his last two European Tour wins at the Nedbank Golf Challenge and BMW PGA Championship, he’s posted final-round scores of 63 and 62. Still, Noren knows the South Course at Torrey will be a much different test.
“It’s just trying to get used to the firmness of the greens here, a little bit firmer than Europe I think,” he said. “This kind of golf I like it, there’s a lot of rough and it’s not the tightest course in the world. You can still manage to get on the green from the rough sometimes, which is fun.”
Noren had no problem finding greens on Saturday, hitting 17 of 18 in regulation, leading to three birdies and an eagle in his third round. He ranks first in the field in strokes gained/approach the green this week. It’s only his second start of 2017-’18 on the PGA Tour, the first coming in October at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where he tied for 31st.
At 10-under 206 is 36-hole leader Ryan Palmer, who carded a one-over 73 on Saturday. The Texas native went out in one-over 37, but got back into red figures on the day with 44-foot eagle putt at the par-5 13th. But he bogeyed the following hole, and dropped another at the par-3 16th. He’s still in great position for a potential fourth career victory, and well on his way to his best result of the season.
J.B. Holmes entered the third round nine off the lead, but now finds himself just two back after posting the round of the day, a seven-under 65 that featured a seven-under 29 on the South Course’s front nine (his back). He’s joined at nine-under 207 by Michael Kim, who graduated from Torrey Pines High before winning college player of the year honors while at Cal-Berkeley, and shot a two-under 70 on Saturday.
If it weren’t for Holmes’ impressive round, Gary Woodland’s six-under 66 would have been the best of the day. After an opening-round 74, the two-time tour winner has vaulted himself into contention by playing his last 36 holes in 10 under, both on the South Course, having made 13 birdies, an eagle and five bogeys. He sits three off the lead in a tie for seventh at eight-under 208 alongside Jason Day, Beau Hossler, Justin Rose, C.T. Pan and Tony Finau.
Defending champion Jon Rahm got off to a strong start, rolling in a 20-foot birdie putt on the opening hole to grab a share of the lead at 11 under. From there it was all downhill, as the Spaniard made just two birdies, four bogeys and a disastrous double-bogey 7 at the par-5 18th to finish with a three-over 75. Still, he’s within four shots of the lead at seven-under 75 and can move to World No. 1 with a victory on Sunday.
Tiger Woods showed another sign of progress on Saturday, carding his low round of the week, a two-under 70 to get to three-under 213. He’s eight shots back.