Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan charged into contention at The Honda Classic on Saturday with the day’s low round of 5-under 65 propelling him into tied fourth place and four back of leader Matt Jones of Australia.
Pan, 29, has struggled to hit into top form for much of 2021 but his game clicked into gear at PGA National as he sank five birdies for a bogey-free card and returned the day’s low round. He also eclipsed playing partner Phil Mickelson, who shot a 69.
He will challenge for a second PGA TOUR win following his maiden triumph at the RBC Heritage in 2019 and will also shoot to become only the third Asian golfer after Y.E. Yang (2009) and Sungjae Im (2020) to win The Honda Classic.
World No. 18 Im is also in the hunt where he can join the great Jack Nicklaus as the only player to win back-to-back titles. The 22-year-old Korean ground out a 69 which included a double bogey on 17 to lie five back in a tie for seventh place.
Starting the round in T42, Pan, playing alongside 44-time winner Mickelson for the first time, got hot with his putter and made birdies on Hole Nos. 1, 3, 9, 12 and 14. He converted lengthy putts of 24 and 23 feet on the ninth and 14th and holed some important par saves to keep his momentum.
“It went really well. It was tough out there with the wind. It was gusting like 25-30mph. I made a lot of putts. On five and seven, I had putts of eight to nine feet which were good ones to save (par) and it was bogey-free which was good. It’s fun playing solid and fun playing with Phil,” said Pan, who was an International Team member in the 2019 Presidents Cup.
He has missed five cuts from seven starts this year and only has one top-10 in the 2020-21 Season achieved at the Masters Tournament last November. His 65 also matched his season low carded during the first round of the Sony Open in Hawaii.
With limited fans returning on site, Pan has been energised as he chases Jones, who leads by three on 10-under from Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes. “I’ve missed the crowds like what it used to be. It’s good to have the fans back, good to hear them yelling and shouting. Definitely brings back some normalcy,” said Pan, whose steady display included 11 fairways hit and 15 greens in regulation.
Im, drained length putts on six and 12 from 15 and 24 feet respectively to stay in the contention. He endured a misfortunate when his tee shot into the par-3, 17th hole plugged in the greenside bunker. The Korean star splashed away from the pin to stay clear of the penalty area but lipped out his bogey attempt.
“The ball was buried in the bunker, so if I hit it to the pin, it was like a hundred percent goes into the water. I tried to just finish up with a bogey, but unfortunately I made a double. It was windy, same as last year but I played pretty well other than 17. It was good to finish under par.”
Third-Round Notes – Saturday, March 20, 2021
Weather: Partly cloudy with a high of 78. Wind NW 6-12 mph.
Matt Jones 61-70-69—200 (-10)
J.B. Holmes 69-67-67—203 (-7)
Aaron Wise 64-64-75—203 (-7)
C.T. Pan 67-72-65—204 (-6)
Cameron Tringale 67-68-69—204 (-6)
Sam Ryder 69-63-72—204 (-6)