The Honda Classic final-round preview: Can anyone catch runaway leader Daniel Berger?

The local man pulled five shots clear after 54 holes but Shane Lowry and the chasing pack aren’t giving up hope yet.

Daniel Berger had continued his dominance by negotiating the beastly 'Bear Trap' (holes 15-17) with a trio of pars.

The hard work looked done and he stood six clear when teeing off at the Par 5 last, an obvious birdie opportunity.

Berger's bogey may not change the final outcome but, for the chasers, a five-shot lead is certainly more retrievable than a seven-stroke advantage.

In other words, Sunday at The Honda Classic could still be an intriguing watch.

Berger's 1-under 69 on Saturday left him at 11-under, currently five clear of 2019 Open champion Shane Lowry, Austrian Sepp Straka and American pair Kurt Kitayama and Chris Kirk.

Canada's Adam Svensson is a further shot in arrears at 5-under then it's a further three back to a bunch on 2-under. That latter group has nine strokes to make up and surely that's too much.

Let's look at the front six on the leaderboard to decide if Berger has this sewn up or whether anything hints at a final-round thriller.

Daniel Berger - 11-under (65-65-69)

Berger has the joint-largest 54-lead in the tournament's history and is the only player this week to have shot three rounds in the 60s.

Four players have previously reached 11-under after 54 holes at PGA National and three of those went on to take victory.

Berger has only converted once in three attempts when leading after three rounds. In one of those, the 2016 Travelers Championship, he was three clear with 18 to play but lost by three.

Stats: Berger has now fired seven straight under-par rounds at PGA National, the longest active streak on Tour. He's also made just two bogeys so far, the joint-fewest in history here after 54 holes. He ranks 2nd for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green, 3rd for SG: Approach and 7th for SG: Putting.

Quotes: "I've played some great golf but the challenge is still ahead, 18 more holes, and I've got to stay focused on playing another great round tomorrow and if I can do that then I'll be holding the trophy at the end of the day.

"It's going to be a challenge. The greens are going to be I expect a little firmer and faster and I just have to continue to do the same thing I did today and hit fairways and greens and make some putts."

Shane Lowry - 6-under (70-67-67)

With back-to-back 67s, Lowry has matched Berger's 6-under tally over the last two days but still has five shots to make up from day one.

He made four birdies against one bogey on day three and is on track to easily beat his previous best finish in four previous appearances in the event, T21 in 2020. He was fifth at halfway last year.

This is a continuation of his bright start to 2022 which shows T12 in Abu Dhabi, T24 in Dubai and T14 in Saudi.

The Irishman has never won a tournament on the PGA Tour or European Tour when either five back or starting the final day in second place.

Stats: Lowry ranks 5th SG: Tee To Green and has been getting stronger in that category each day. He gained 4.055 strokes in round three. He's 16th for SG: Putting and 9th for Approach.

Quotes: "It's playing great, I really like the way it's playing. I feel like personally that too many weeks we play where it's 20-, 25-under winning tournaments so for me this is more enjoyable than that.

"Feel like my game's in good shape and I'm looking forward to the challenge of going out trying to win a PGA Tour event tomorrow."

Sepp Straka - 6-under (71-64-69)

The Austrian made his move on Friday with a 6-under 64 but couldn't get any closer to Berger in round three after matching the leader's 69.

The 28-year-old is yet to win at this level, his best finish a third place in the 2019 Barbasol Championship.

He's been in solid form this season, with T15 in last week's Genesis Invitational and T16 in the Farmers Insurance Open. Straka has course form of 33-27-MC.

Stats: Straka ranks 1st for Driving Accuracy and 5th for SG: Off The Tee. He's 20th Tee To Green and 5th for SG: Putting.

Quotes: "Definitely didn't have my best stuff today. Started off hitting the driver a little left and I kind of struggled a little bit with the ball striking. But really hung in there, I hit some good shots when I needed to and made some key putts here coming down the stretch."

Kurt Kitayama - 6-under (64-69-71)

Kitayama is back at his post-R1 score of 6-under but, with scoring tough, that's still good enough for tied second place.

He double bogeyed the 2nd hole on Saturday but shot 1-under from that point.

The American is a two-time winner on the European Tour but has never even managed a top 15 on the PGA Tour in 25 starts.

Stats: Kitayama is 9th for SG: Tee to Green and 10th in SG: Putting. But his Tee To Green numbers have fallen each day and he actually lost 1.599 strokes in that category on Saturday.

Quotes: "I mean just felt like a grind today. It played a lot tougher and glad I was able to hang in there. I feel really good to be right there in the top 5 there and after a day like today it's kind of nice when you can shoot over par and not really move too far back. So to still be in this position is great."

Chris Kirk - 6-under (65-68-71)

Kirk, who was 12th here in 2014 and T25 last year, also shot over par in round three.

He looked set to emerge as Berger's closest challenger but took double bogey at 14 and couldn't pick up a shot on the par-5 closer.

In his four previous PGA Tour wins (the most recent in 2015), Kirk twice came from behind on the final day, making up a two-shot deficit in the 2014 Deutsche Bank Championship and three shots in the 2015 Crowne Plaza Invitational.

Stats: Kirk is 4th for both SG: Tee To Green and SG: Around The Green while he ranks 20th in SG: Putting. He lost strokes (-0.523) on the greens yesterday.

Adam Svensson - 5-under (69-65-71)

Like Kitayama and Kirk, Svensson couldn't break par in round three but a birdie at 18 to Berger's bogey got him back within six.

The Canadian has a best finish of T7 (this year's Sony Open) on the PGA Tour and was T59 on his only start at PGA National in 2019.

However, Svensson has some great memories of this week's course, saying after round two: "I won Q-School by seven here and then I won a college event here as well."

Stats: Svensson ranks 1st for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green this week and also 1st Off The Tee and 5th for Approach. But he's only 69th in SG: Putting and lost 2.202 strokes to the field on the greens yesterday.

Conclusion

Berger lost a play-off here in 2015 when an up-and-coming talent and now has a golden chance to win his local event.

His list of challengers are a rather mixed bunch but Shane Lowry must rank as the main danger.

Lowry will play with Berger in the final group (01:35pm local) so can perhaps get a match play vibe going.

We saw at Whistling Straits how the Irishman can find inspiration under this format and a 67 in round two suggests Lowry is the most likely man to hunt Berger down.

Shane Lowry at the 2021 Houston Open

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