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NEWS: Europeans Rahm, Fleetwood Enjoy Stellar Saturdays

Tommy Fleetwood (Photo: Brian Snyder, Reuters)

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – Two notable Europeans not named Rory made significant moves on Saturday at the Masters.

After a third-round 65 at Augusta National, Spain’s Jon Rahm stands in fourth place at 8-under par through 54 holes, while England’s Tommy Fleetwood posted a 66 that moved him to 6 under, in a tie for sixth place with Bubba Watson and Marc Leishman. But with second-round leader Patrick Reed posting a 67, the pair gained precious little ground and will need Reed to back up to have a chance on Sunday.

“There’s a lot of ground to make up,” said Rahm, the world’s third-ranked player, who will start Sunday six strokes behind Reed. “I have to keep playing my game and I have to keep doing my thing, and hopefully I can get another good start.”

With rain softening the greens on Saturday, Rahm and Fleetwood capitalized on conditions ripe for scoring. Thanks in part to a pitch-in eagle at the par-5 eighth, Rahm raced to the turn in 32, while Fleetwood made five consecutive birdies on the homeward half before a closing bogey.  

Rahm, 23, has won twice on the PGA Tour and twice on the European Tour since turning pro in 2016, but he hasn’t previously contended in a major. Fleetwood, 27, is ranked 12th in the world and won the European Tour’s Race to Dubai in 2017. He finished fourth at last year’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills after sharing the halfway lead.

After shooting 75 on Thursday, Rahm examined his performance and noticed a negative trend.

“I went back on my round and I realized every time I missed the fairway, I basically made a bogey,” he said. “So I just focused on making sure I hit the fairways and (made) some putts, and executed that really well yesterday on the back nine. I was keeping it in play, just (keeping) it in the right spot on the fairway, hitting good shots and making putts. Today I kept doing the same thing.”

On Saturday, Rahm birdied the par-4 10th after an approach to 10 feet, but the Basque bomber failed to birdie either of the back-nine par-5s. A second shot into Rae’s Creek at the 510-yard 13th threatened to derail his round, but after taking a drop he drilled the flagstick with his fourth shot and saved par.

After failing to get up and down and settling for par at the 530-yard 15th, Rahm finished strongly, making birdies at 16 and 17.

“The only time I made a little adjustment was on 16 green, when I knew something was a little off, just because I was on a string of pars, I wasn’t hitting good putts, and (I) started controlling my breathing a little bit,” Rahm said. “I slowed it down, kind of meditated for about 10 seconds while (playing partner) Matt Kuchar was putting, and that got me back and focused and (able to finish) the way I did.”

Fleetwood’s back-nine birdie run began with a deuce at the par-3 12th, where he made a 20-footer. He two-putted the 13th and 15th for birdies, knocked his approach stiff at 14 to set up another and converted from 6 feet on the par-3 16th.

“It was great to get on that run,” Fleetwood said. “After 11, I hit a great shot and I had 6 or 7 feet for birdie and completely misjudged how the slope played on that green and left it short, which you always hate doing. Then (I) holed one on 12 and then just started a run of really, really good iron shots. I had a chance on 17, too, but it wasn’t to be.

“Around that corner, when you get to 14, 15, 16, the atmosphere is always very good there and the noise is up, and it was nice to be getting something going around there.”


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