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Max Homa, Tony Finau put golf fans in an impossible spot through 54 holes at AMEX

January 23, 2021

Max Homa lines up his shot from the eighth tee during the third round of The American Express.

Harry How

Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed all missed the cut Friday at The American Express, seemingly leaving a lot to be desired on the weekend. One look at the top of the 54-hole leader board would show you that's far from the case. Sunday should be a good one at PGA West. Here are four takeaways from the third round.

Which of these great guys and players do you root for?

On Saturday, despite both guys making disastrous double bogeys, Tony Finau and Max Homa managed to play their way into the final group, Homa shooting a seven-under 65 (again, with a double!) and Finau a five-under 67. Now, golf fans are left with a difficult choice.

On one hand, there's Finau, an eternally nice, immensely talented player who is still somehow stuck on one PGA Tour victory (2016 Puerto Rico Open) despite putting himself in contention week after week, Sunday after Sunday. And he doesn't just do it in events like this one. Finau has come close at majors, come close at WGCs, and come plenty close in many more of golf's so-called big-boy events. There's not another player, fan, or member of the media who hasn't already said "man, I'd like to see Tony win," or "it's just a matter of time until Tony wins again." It will happen, even if it's not on Sunday.

On the other hand, there's Homa, the funniest tour pro on Twitter not named Eddie Pepperell who finally broke through at the Wells Fargo in 2019 after years of grinding and failing on the various pro tours. Since that win Homa has become a very solid player who can thrust himself into contention often, and obviously has the game to become a multiple PGA Tour winner. No one would be mad if he raised the trophy on Sunday, even if it came at the expense of Finau.

So, who do you root for? No one. Just sit back and enjoy (there's a better-than-decent chance neither of them wins). Between Finau-Homa, Rory-Hatton-Fleetwood at Abu Dhabi, and the Kordas and Danielle Kang on the LPGA Tour, Sunday will be one of the great park-your-butt-on-the-couch golf days in recent memory, provided you can take your eyes of Brady-Rodgers and Mahomes-Allen for a little.

Si Woo Kim plays a shot out of the bunker on the eighth hole during the third round of The American Express.

Sean M. Haffey

Si Woo Kim (the other guy in the final group) was FEELING it Saturday

The term “sauce” gets thrown around pretty liberally in pro golf these days, but it’s the only way to describe Si Woo Kim’s third round—saucy. There were twirls, there were holsters, there were early tee grabs and there was definitely some walking after his shots. For good reason. Kim was flag-hunting all day. He gained over four strokes on approach, and tee-to-green only one player has been better all week. On Saturday, Kim finished with a five-under 67, which put him in a tie at the top.

Two things: 1. It will be hard to replicate that on Sunday, particularly with his irons. 2. He may have gotten the least he could out of that round. On 16, after hitting perhaps the shot of the week on his approach into the par-5, he missed the nine-footer for eagle. At the following hole, the island green par-3, he stuffed an iron to 12 feet and lipped out the birdie putt. These weren’t the only two short birdie misses, either. He wound up losing nearly a full stroke putting. He’s in a great spot, tied for the lead, but the way he played Saturday he should be leading by three or four. If he can hit his irons half as good as he did Saturday and just make a few more putts, he’ll have a great chance to win for the first time since the 2017 Players, which happened to come at another famous Pete Dye design—TPC Sawgrass.

Sungjae Im prepares to play his second shot on the eighth hole during the third round of The American Express.

Harry How

Sungjae Im went down swinging

Because he makes the game look so simple and so robotic at times, it's easy to forget Sungaje Im is just 22 years old. Welp, he reminded us he still is capable of some very 22-year-old things on Saturday. After back-to-back birdies to open his round, Im went full eject at the Stadium Course, starting at the par-5 sixth. With a not-so-great lie in the rough, Im pulled lumber anyway and went for the green, his ball finding a watery grave. He still made bogey, but rather than realize his mistake and play smarter from there, Im went down swinging.

At the par-4 ninth, with 194 to the green from a fairway bunker, Im found the water again and made triple. Back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12 almost undid the damage, but he went bogey-bogey at 13 and 14 and then went for the green again at the par-5 16th, this time finding the pit of death left of the green. It was a clinic in "I don't care, I'm going for everything," and we have no choice but to respect it. That said, he'll probably remember in the future to pick his spots at the tricky Dye course. By the way, he's still only five off the lead. If he gets uber aggressive again on Sunday, which he likely will, something in the seven or eight under range could give him a legitimate chance.

Francesco Molinari plays his second shot on the eighth hole during the third round of The American Express.

Harry How

Francesco Molinari closing in on first top-10 since ... wait for it ...

You aren't going to believe this, but the last time Francesco Molinari posted a top-10 finish was ... hold on, make sure you are sitting down ... wait ... wait for it ... the 2019 Masters!!!

OK, so maybe you definitely did know that, probably because it's quite literally the last time anyone has seen his name on a leader board. In 21 starts worldwide since, the 2018 Open champion has seven missed cuts and seven finishes outside the top 40, with a high finish of T-11, which came at the 2019 Open Championship. It's been a rough run since the 12th hole on in 2019 Sunday at Augusta for Molinari, who at that moment was continuing to build his case for being the best player on the planet. Twenty-two long, arduous months later, and he's T-8 through 54 holes of the AMEX, just three off the lead. No, he's nowhere near the same level of player he was in April 2019, but this appears to be a very good good first step back in that direction.