McNealy rallies late to grab share of the lead at Fortinet Championship

San Francisco (AFP) –


Jim Knous and Maverick McNealy both birdied their final holes of the round to top a crowded leaderboard at The Fortinet Championship, the first PGA Tour event of the new season.

McNealy caught fire on the back nine, closing his round of 70 with three consecutive birdies to get to -14 under 202 total and maintain a share of the lead on the Silverado Resort and Spa course.

Neither McNealy nor Knous can sleep easy heading into Sunday's final round, as there are 18 players within four shots of the lead, including six-time major winner Phil Mickelson and 2012 US Open champion Webb Simpson.

"It was a crazy day," said second-round leader McNealy. "One of those days where the ball was running up in funny spots.

"It was pretty hectic, and then on the 12th everything seemed to slow down for me, and I am really proud of the way I finished."

The 25-year-old McNealy made birdie on the final three holes including the par-five 16th and the par-five 18th. He played his US college golf at nearby Stanford University, where he tied a number of Tiger Woods' Cardinal collegiate records.

Chile's Mito Pereira and American Scott Stallings lead a pack of five golfers tied for third at 12 under 204. Max Homa, Troy Merritt and Beau Hossler are also at 12 under.

Talor Gooch is one stroke back in solo eighth after a round of 70.

Mickelson (67) and Simpson (65) highlight a group of 10 golfers at 10 under, just four shots back of the leaders.

After a one-week break, the PGA Tour is kicking off the 2021-22 season with The Fortinet Championship in Napa, California.

Knous capped his 65 with a birdie on 18, where he rolled in a long putt from the edge of the green.

His only top-10 finish in 24 starts came at this event in 2018, his first start as a member of the PGA Tour.

He wasn't straight off the tee on 18 but managed to scramble back.

"I hit it terrible and tried to punch it back into play," he said. "(The birdie putt) kind of broke at the end, but I had perfect speed on it.

"I just played solid and patient and let the course come to me."

Knous is trying to not put too much pressure on himself going forward.

- Five straight birdies -

"The best I can do is just hit every shot the best I can, and things will work out as they should," he said. "My wife said, 'Do your best and let God do the rest.'

"I am just trying to win a tournament and not play for some deadline."

Mickelson is making his seventh start at the event, with his best finish being tied for third four years ago.

Mickelson fashioned five straight back-nine birdies to reach 10 under par. He already has a goal for what he wants to shoot on Sunday.

"It's fun to have a little later tee time and to feel some of the nerves and so forth. I know I'm going to have to shoot probably seven, eight, nine under par to have a chance, but either way it's fun having that chance," he said.