DETROIT – Troy Merritt took off his cap and bowed his head briefly to celebrate the roar of the crowd after the first ace of his PGA Tour career.
He couldn’t enjoy the moment for long.
Merritt’s hole-in-one gave him a three-shot lead, but he fought back on the next hole with a bogeyman and scored 5-under 67 on Saturday. Joaquin Niemann took advantage of the opening to split the third-round lead at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Niemann, who shared the 36-hole lead with Tom Lewis, drew two shots from 46 feet to 17. He parried the last hole, the hardest hole at Detroit Golf Club, at 68.
Hank Lebioda (66) and Cam Davis (67) hit back with Brandon Hagee (68) behind. Lewis (71) was among six players who made three correct throws back on a relatively short field with receptive greens.
“Thinking will make a few birds, but don’t betray anyone,” Merritt said. “Make them work to come and pick us up and hopefully it will be good enough in the end.”
Ricky Fowler (68) was in a pack of 10 shots with five back shots while the first round leader. Davis Thompson (72) was six shots ago. After opening with a record 63 course, Thompson played the last 36 holes in 1 over with rounds 73 and 72.
Merritt, 35, made his first lunar hit on the PGA Tour – 219 yards with 5 irons per bounce – to give him a three-hit lead.
Merritt was thrilled, and so were the fans. a year after the audience was not allowed in take part in the Rocket Mortgage Classic 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s great that the fans are here again, shouting and shouting good shots,” he said. “I’m sorry about the bad shots and I even hear some comments that you probably don’t want to hear.”
After his scarecrow, he closed in six straight pairs.
Iowa-based Merritt won his second PGA Tour title at the 2018 Barbasol Championship. The following year, he missed two months of competition due to surgery to remove a rib after thrombus that runs from his chest to his left elbow.
He entered this week with three top 10 finishes this year, including a couple of them in May, making him one of the best he has had in a year since his 2010 PGA Tour debut.
Merritt quickly climbed to number one on the leaderboard after starting his round on Saturday 9 under, one shot ahead of the lead. He had four birds through seven holes and lamented that he didn’t have another because he missed a 14-foot shot on hole nine.
His ace on 11 par-3 put him 6 down for the day and he may have had a hard time pulling himself together.
“We had time to calm down until the next hit from the target,” Merritt insisted.
Merritt, however, missed the fairway from the right at 493 yards, par-4 12. Then he got a long chip and a 14-foot shot, making a bogeyman and cutting the lead before hitting.
22-year-old Niemann had two birds in the last five holes, which allowed him to win a second time in the round. He became the first player from Chile to win the 2019 PGA Tour at The Greenbrier.
“Everyone will have their moment, and my moment came pretty early,” said Niemann, who has finished four times in the top 10 this season.
Reigning champion Bryson DeShambeau missed and left Detroit without speaking to reporters, leaving unresolved questions about how to change caddy on the eve of the tournament, to which he did not apply in Instagram message.
“This week I didn’t have the best, but this golf sometimes, “wrote DeShambeau.
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