PGA Tour rookie Sahith Theegala will get an early test of his capabilities on the biggest stage on Sunday at the Sanderson Farms Championship as he takes a one-shot lead into the final day of the tournament.
The 23-year-old fired a nerveless bogey-free five-under 67 in his third round at the Country Club of Jackson to reach 18-under and take a one-stroke advantage into the final round over Cameron Tringale, Denny McCarthy, Sam Burns and Cameron Young.
Despite his inexperience at this level, Theegala looked like a consummate professional on day three in Mississippi as he made sure he kept the mistakes off the scorecard early, a lone birdie at the sixth snapping a run of eight pars on the front nine as he consolidated his position.
His back nine was where he did his scoring, stringing together three consecutive birdies after the turn and then adding another shot at the 15th – which was so nearly an eagle when his chip did an inexplicable 360-degree lip-out – to ensure he would have an advantage with 18 holes to play.
“Definitely a little nerves in there for sure, but I think people have said before, pressure’s a privilege and I’m trying to use those nerves to my advantage,” said Theegala, the World No.454 who won the Haskins Award, the Ben Hogan Award, and the Jack Nicklaus Award all in 2020.
“I’m just having a good time with Carl (Smith, his caddy) out there and regardless of the golf that’s what it boils down to, golf’s a game, so try and enjoy it as much as I can.
“I think it’s really important that a lot of guys have learned to win at every level and I don’t think it’s that much different because we’ve made that progression since junior golf winning at the junior level, amateur level, college level, whatever it is.
“I haven’t really thought too much about if I was behind or ahead, I haven’t really dwelled on that a whole lot, but obviously I’m in a really good position for tomorrow so I’m excited.”
Tringale, who is the all-time PGA Tour earner without having a win to his name, pulled himself into contention after having an early tee time on Saturday, carding a 10-under 62 that included two eagles to share second-place with McCarthy, Burns and Young, and he will be keen to finally get the monkey off his back in Jackson.
Burns, who shot a 65 on Saturday, is looking to have a good start to the 2021-22 season after picking up his maiden win at the Valspar Championship earlier this year and putting himself in late consideration for the US Ryder Cup team, while McCarthy and Young are also in search of first wins.
The quartet are right on the heels of Theegala, and it would be foolish to count out Seth Reeves and Trey Mullinax, who are both a further shot back at 16-under after rounds of 63 and 64 on day three respectively.
Indeed, the overall inexperience of the leaderboard is evidenced by the fact that Andrew Landry is the best-placed player already with multiple wins on Tour in a tie for 10th at 14-under, meaning that is likely somebody will experience their breakthrough moment in Mississippi on Sunday afternoon.
Ironically, it was the two more experienced overnight leaders who fell away on Saturday, veteran Nick Watney at least moving up to 14-under alongside Landry after a one-under 71, while PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Will Zalatoris could only manage a 72 to stay at 13-under.