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Steele narrowly hangs onto lead at PGA Tour season opener

October 18, 2015

NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Brendan Steele had no complaints about his game Saturday in the Frys.com Open. He struck the ball well, made four birdies for a 3-under 69 and walked off Silverado with a one-shot lead going into the final round.

It was only after he finished that he saw that just about everyone else did so much more.

Andrew Loupe had a 63, starting with five straight birdies and making four in a row late in his round. Kevin Na and Jason Bohn each had a 64.

Three others shot 65, including Argentine rookie Emiliano Grillo, who played the final three holes in 3 under.

“The way it firmed up at the end yesterday, and how firm it was today, you really had to be on your game in order to do that,” Steele said. “I guess you never underestimate the talent level out here. I didn’t really ever flip the mindset. Just trying to do the best that I could.”

It was good enough to keep the lead — barely.

Sixteen players were within four shots of the lead, meaning the PGA Tour season opener was wide open.

Loupe went from a tie for 29th to playing in the final group with his 63, which matches the course record at Silverado first set by host Johnny Miller in 1976 and matched on Thursday by Steele. Na played the final three holes in 3 under to join Loupe just one shot out of the lead.

Steele stayed in the lead the entire back nine, though he wasted a chance to at least build a cushion going into the final round. The last three holes were set up for scoring with the par-5 16th, a forward tee to make the 17th play only 296 yards, and the par-5 18th.

Steele had to settle for pars.

He couldn’t get up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 16th. His tee shot was slightly pulled and bounced out of a tree back to the fairway and short of the green on the 296-yard 17th hole, and he could get no closer than 20 feet with a wedge on the par-5 18th.

“It happens,” he said. “Whether it’s at the end or the start, you just have to deal with it.”

A pair of PGA Tour rookies were among the eight players two shots behind at 12-under 204. Grillo, coming off a win in the Web.com Tour Championship two weeks ago, went eagle-birdie-par.

“The course asks you to be aggressive a little bit, but you have to be very smart out there,” Grillo said. “If you play smart you can score well.”

Harold Varner III played that stretch in 1 over, having to scramble for a par on the 17th and missing the 18th green long with a wedge to make bogey. He shot 69.

Grillo drove near the 17th green and nearly took out Rory McIlroy, who was still playing the hole. Grillo was under the impression the group had left.

And if he had hit the four-time major champion?

“Would have put me out of my misery,” McIlroy said.

McIlroy opened with two quick birdies, though frustration set in quickly and he whacked the flagstick with the end of his putter after missing a par putt on No. 4. He finished with a 71 and was eight shots behind in a tie for 39th.

Justin Rose, who along with McIlroy is at the Frys.com Open because of an eight-man exhibition he played in Turkey three years ago, used that closing stretch to make a pair of birdies for a 68 and get within two shots.

Others at 12-under 204 were Jason Bohn (64), Kyle Reifers (65), Graham DeLaet (69), Will Wilcox (69) and Jhonattan Vegas (69).

Justin Thomas had a 69 and was three shot behind.

The 54-hole cut knocked out nine players, so the final round will be played in twosomes from one tee. Loupe will play in the last group with Steele, and perhaps they can share tales from the Valero Texas Open. That’s where Steele won his only PGA Tour event in 2011 as a rookie. And that’s where Loupe had a chance to win in 2014 as a rookie until he faded at the end. Loupe wound up back on the Web.com Tour, and won a Web.com Tour Finals event just last month.

“I just think overall I feel I’m more ready,” Loupe said. “I needed to get a win those Finals. That was huge, just to close out a golf tournament and all that.”

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