SAFEWAY OPEN: Tyler Duncan the 54-hole leader; Phil still in it

golfweek.com photo: Tyler Duncan takes the lead with a 54 at the Safeway Open on Saturday at Silverado Resorts and Springs in Napa

By Jeremy Harness

 NAPA, Calif. – All the factors are there for a huge turnout for Sunday’s final round: A razor-thin lead at the top, and the ultra-popular Phil Mickelson near the top of the leaderboard with a real chance to win.

 As it stands right now, Tyler Duncan is the one that everyone else is chasing at the Safeway Open, the tournament held at Silverado Resort and Spa that officially kicks off the 2017-18 PGA Tour season, but it’s not by much.

Duncan entered Saturday’s third round leading by a single stroke over first-round leader Brendan Steele. After the first nine holes of Saturday’s third round, the two switched spots, as Steele played the first nine at one-under while Duncan dropped a shot. However, that would soon change. At the 11th, Duncan made birdie while Steele could not get up and down after finding himself left of the green on the same hole.

 “I’m just looking forward to the opportunity,” said Duncan, a rookie on the PGA Tour this season. “To be here playing on Sunday is awesome, and I’m going to come out and give it my best.

 “I’m not sure it’s set in yet. I don’t know how well I’ll sleep tonight, and I’m sure I’ll be nervous tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to it.”

 As for Steele, he fell further behind the lead when he could not get up and down at the 18th hole, moments after Duncan was able to accomplish that task, dropping him to 12-under overall and an even-par round of 72 on Saturday, as he is tied for third and trails by two shots.

Chesson Hadley, who burst onto the scene on Friday with a round of 61, picked up two more shots on Saturday and trails by only a shot after three rounds. The two will play together in the final group Sunday, at 12:30pm PST, along with Bud Cauley, who launched himself into a tie for second with a bogey-free round of 66 that featured three birdies on each side.

 “I’m very proud of the way I played today,” Hadley said. “It’s really just about staying in the hunt for tomorrow, and that’s where we are, which is great. I wouldn’t mind another 11-under round tomorrow (as was the case on Friday). If we can get greedy, that would be really nice.”

 Kevin Na, who lost in a playoff to Emiliano Grillo in this event two years ago, was also six-under on Saturday and gave himself at least an outside shot to win. Grillo himself stayed in the mix with a four-under 68 and is currently tied for fifth at 11-under overall.

 Of course, the excitement tends to build considerably any time Mickelson is anywhere near the lead with a realistic chance to win. After two consecutive rounds of 69, he picked up four more shots on Saturday for a round of 68, capping things off with a birdie at the par-5 18th, much to the delight of the huge crowd of fans that followed him around the course. 

With an overall score of 10-under and tied for seventh, he will play two groups behind the leaders, at 12:10pm PST, along with recent Web.com Tour grad Andrew Putnam and Bill Haas, who won the season-ending FedEx Cup back in 2011.

 “I like the position I’m in, I just have to get off to a good start,” Mickelson said. “The greens are baking out. They’re much firmer, faster and very glossy. I think it’s going to be difficult to follow birdies.

 “So if I have a chance to make some birdies and force them to have to make birdies, I think it’s going to be a lot harder.”

 

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