Tournaments

Els Lurking, But Hurley III Leads Quicken Loans National

Ernie Els is in the hunt at Congressional, the course where he won the 1997 U.S. Open. Credit: Sportsnaut
Ernie Els is in the hunt at Congressional, the course where he won the 1997 U.S. Open. Credit: Sportsnaut
At 7,574 yards, Congressional Country Club, home of the 2016 Quicken Loans National, is one of the longest courses on the PGA Tour. A number of recent Congressional victors, including Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, and Anthony Kim can be categorized under the “bomber” label off the tees. Being able to power a ball at a course like this is an enormous advantage.

Don’t try telling that to Billy Hurley III, 54-hole leader at the Quicken Loans National.

Hurley III is one of the shortest hitters on tour as his paltry 272.1 average ranks 192nd out of 198 qualifying golfers. However, despite being distance-challenged, with stellar accuracy and the kind of unflappable mental fortitude that you would expect from a navy graduate, he has found a way to lap the field in birdies (being a local resident and having crowd support has helped too) and put himself at the top of the leaderboard. His third-round 67 put him at 15-under for the tournament, two strokes clear of Hall of Famer Ernie Els, who shot a 6-under 65.

Stalking Hurley III, in addition to Els, is rookie sensation Jon Rahm, playing in his first tournament as a professional. After leading the first two rounds, Rahm finally looked mortal today, battling significant problems off the tee, but still posting a respectable 1-under 70. The pro-tracer video of his shanked tee shot with an 8-iron on 13 is likely to go viral. He is three strokes out of the lead at 12-under.

The star of the day was the 46-year-old Els, who has not won on tour since his incredible four-stroke comeback down the stretch to overtake Adam Scott at the 2012 Open Championship. Els was extremely dialed in on approach shots, even holing an eagle with a 9-iron from 157-yards on the par-4 12th hole. Els mostly credited his short game as the catalyst behind his great round.

“I enjoyed it,” said Els. “I’m not the straightest driver, but I kept it in play for the most part. The misses I did have wasn’t too far off, and the putter was hot for most part of the round. I missed those short ones on 15 and 16, but just overall solid golf, and that’s what you have to do at Congressional.”

Els will be playing with Hurley III in the final group tomorrow, which should be a comfortable position for him when factoring in his long, prolific career. Els even won a major held at Congressional (the ‘97 U.S. Open). The 34-year-old Hurley III may be at a familiar course, but is not in a familiar position. He has struggled badly on tour this year, missing six cuts in 12 events, and not finishing higher than T41. Even still, he has been the best golfer in the field through three rounds, and is still the man to beat on Sunday.

Other contenders include Bill Haas and Webb Simpson, who shot matching 3-under 68s to put themselves within five strokes of Hurley III’s lead. Vijay Singh, who at 53-years-old is attempting to become the oldest winner in PGA Tour history, cancelled out five birdies with five bogeys, and is now sitting seven back at 8-under after a round of even-par 71.

The tournament host, the redoubtable Tiger Woods, will be on hand for tomorrow’s round to deliver the trophy to the winner. Whoever comes out on top will join Tiger, who won in 2013, as a Quicken Loans National champion.

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