Much of last season on the US PGA Tour was dominated by its young stars, something 41-year-old Pat Perez is well aware of when attempting to keep up with them. He’s had no problem doing just that this week at the CIMB Classic though, posting three consecutive rounds of 66 or lower, including his third-round eight-under 64 that has given him a four-shot lead at 21-under 195 at TPC Kuala Lumpur.
Perez played alongside Xander Schauffele on Saturday in Malaysia, and found himself just two strokes ahead of the PGA Tour rookie of the year through 10 holes after Schauffele made an eagle 3 at the par-5 10th. That’s when Perez sprinted to the finish, making five birdies in his last seven holes to post his low score of the week.
“These guys are so good and you can make so many birdies so fast, and I know that,” said Perez, who has taken a lead into the final round of a tour event just twice previously in his 17-year career on tour, the last coming at the 2009 Bob Hope Classic. “So if I can get another six [birdies] tomorrow, I might be tough to catch.”
In order to do that Perez will need a similar performance on the greens, where he emphatically rolled in putts of 17, 18 and 25 feet in his third round. He leads the field in birdies this week with 23. A victory on Sunday would be the third of Perez’s career, and further prove that he has a game that can travel. Nearly a year ago, he earned his second PGA Tour title in Mexico when he won the OHL Classic at Mayakoba. He’s looking to start 2017/18 on a similar high note.
Schauffele continued his strong form with a second-straight five-under 67 to get to 17-under 199. A low round on Sunday could potentially earn him his third win in the past four months, but he’s also all but locked up a top-20 finish, which will be his eighth in his past 11 starts.
Sitting in solo third is Sung Kang, who shot a seven-under 65 that has him at 16-under 200. The South Korean challenged on multiple occasions in 2017, finishing in solo second at the Shell Houston Open, T-6 at the Valero Texas Open and T-5 at the Quicken Loans National. He hopes to notch his first career victory on Sunday in his 114th tour start.
A pair of notable names, Hideki Matsuyama and Keegan Bradley, are six back at 15-under 201. Matsuyama, who posted the low round of the day (63), finished runner-up at the CIMB Classic last season, while Bradley finished in solo sixth.
Australia’s Cameron Smith, who began 64-71, slipped down the leaderboard with a third round of 73. He is tied for 15th at eight-under par and 13 shots behind Perez.
Defending champion Justin Thomas posted his first sub-70 round of the week with a three-under 69. There will be no three-peat for the reigning FedEx Cup champion, however, as he finds himself 15 shots back at six-under 210.
South Korea’s Whee Kim provided the shot of the week at the par-3 15th, with a hole-in-one from 199 yards that won him a BMW hybrid.