ATLANTA — Already with the best year in golf, Jordan Spieth is one round away from having the richest year in golf history.
Spieth battled his way through a tough, rainy Saturday at the Tour Championship and finally overtook Henrik Stenson with a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 2-under 68 and a one-shot lead. Spieth also had an 8-foot birdie and a 20-foot par over the closing four holes.
Stenson had a three-shot lead going to the back nine until back-to-back bogeys. He dropped one more shot on the 17th and had a 72, his first time over par at East Lake in seven rounds. It also was the first time he was not in the lead at the Tour Championship in his two appearances.
Spieth was at 8-under 202.
A victory Sunday would push Spieth over a record $12 million for the year, along with the $10 million bonus for winning the FedEx Cup.
As tough it was in the third round, the FedEx Cup finale might be even more difficult — if not because of the course, then the competition and what’s at stake.
Rickie Fowler shot a 31 on the back nine for a 67, the low score of the third round, and was four shots behind. Spieth, Stenson and Fowler are among the top five seeds in the FedEx Cup and only have to win the Tour Championship to capture the FedEx Cup.
Zach Johnson had a 71 and was five shots back. A victory would give him the FedEx Cup, provided Jason Day isn’t the runner-up. Day had a 70 and was tied for 10th.
Relatively quiet during the postseason, Spieth looks to be in mid-summer form.
He has made only two bogeys all week, and he has delivered four amazing par saves. He was four shots behind and in the front bunker on No. 8, a flat lie facing a steep hill, and he had resigned to make bogey. Stenson was about 10 feet away for birdie. Spieth picked it clean and got up-and-down from 5 feet, while Stenson missed.
Spieth also saved par with a long bunker shot on the par-3 second and on No. 5 with an up-and-down from 70 yards.
“I could have easily been 3 over through eight,” Spieth said.
The other big save was on the 16th, when Spieth blocked it so badly off the tee he called out, “Holy, right!” It missed by a foot going into the bushes, he drilled a line drive through the pine trees to the first cut, hit wedge to 20 feet and holed it
“A miracle save on 16,” Stenson called it.
Stenson had another day of ordinary ball-striking, normally his strength, but he managed it fine. The difficult part was a wet East Lake, which made the course feel like a beast. No hole was more difficult than the 520-yard fifth hole, a par 4 that only three players reached in two. Stenson it a pair of 3-woods and couldn’t get there. Spieth hammered a driver and a 3-wood and was still some 70 yards short of the flag.
Stenson hit a fairway metal on the 10th hole out of the rough, just through the green and down a slope, leading to bogey. He also three-putted the 11th when the final group was warned to pick up the pace.
“Kept it together fairly nicely and we’re still at the races,” Stenson said. “I would have liked to have gone a few better, but we’re still up there and yeah, it’s all going to be decided tomorrow.”
Paul Casey had a 71 and was tied with Fowler at 4-under 206, while Rory McIlroy lost momentum with a double bogey on the 18th from a terrible lie around a bunker. That capped off a wild finish for McIlroy — four birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey over the last seven holes. It added to a 70, and he was five shots behind at 207.
Only nine players remained under par, a big contrast from the opening three FedEx Cup playoff events where the winners were a combined 56-under par.
And now it comes down to one last day in the season.
Spieth effectively put an end to any debate about PGA Tour player of the year, especially with Day struggling this week in his debut at No. 1. Spieth also is all but assured the Vardon Trophy. But there’s a bigger prize that’s worth more than $10 million.
Spieth said even before the postseason began that his goal was to peak at East Lake, much like he tried to get his game just right for the majors. Here he is, leading by one shot going into the final round on a course that he believes is easier to play in front because of the premium on par.
But he spent all day in the rain with Stenson, one of the power players in golf who won the last time he was at East Lake.
“I’m very pleased with where we stand going into tomorrow, and Henrik’s going to come back very strong,” Spieth said. “This was his off day, and so I’m going to have to play even better.”
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