Bethesda, Maryland: Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge seized a one-stroke lead by posting his second consecutive two-under 69 on Saturday in the third round of the storm-hit AT&T National.
De Jonge birdied three holes but hardly anyone witnessed it in person at the Congressional Country Club after spectators were told to stay away because of a severe storm that struck the area overnight.
De Jonge said playing without spectators seemed odd at the start but then once they got going it was all about managing your golf game.
“At first it was definitely very strange,” he said. “Then we kind of got used to it.
“Just the no buzz. It was hard to get the adrenaline going, kind of felt like you were playing a Tuesday practice round or a qualifier.”
Tiger Woods carded a four-under 67 to climb into a share of second place at minus-six. He is tied with first-round leader Bo Van Pelt (67) and South Korea’s Noh Seung-yul (69).
Woods moved to within one shot of the lead with four birdies on his first 10 holes.
“It was amazing we even got it in,” Woods said. “So that was good. Today I just tried to make a run and fight back to get myself in the tournament.”
The storm snapped trees, tore temporary tents from their foundations and scattered debris across the course.
Officials delayed the start of the round for six hours, then the players went off the first and 10th tees in threesomes. Because of safety concerns, fans and volunteers were told to stay away so just players, their family members, security and media were allowed in.
The USPGA Tour issued a statement saying winds in the range of 70-80 mph (112-128 km/h) were reported in the area near Washington.
Along with downed branches around the course, a 75-foot (22m) tree fell on the fairway of the 14th hole and many of the wooden signs identifying the holes were blown down.
Woods said he has played without galleries following him for a few holes before but not an entire round.
“It was very similar to what we faced when we play overseas in practice rounds or when we have dangerous conditions, thunderstorms blow in in the summertime and all the spectators are taken off the golf course and then we go back out and finish in the evening and have a few holes to play,” Woods said.
“I’ve played in front of people like this, but not generally for an 18-hole competitive round.”
De Jonge, who is chasing his first USPGA Tour title, finished 54 holes at seven-under 206.
“Winning here would be that much more special,” said De Jonge of Harare. “It’s obviously a great tournament with a great field, so that would be a good feather in your cap. But obviously I’ve got a lot of work to do tomorrow.”
Second-round leader Hunter Mahan stumbled to a two-over 73. He finished three rounds tied with fellow American Billy Hurley (66) at five-under-par 208. Jhonattan Vegas (68) is one stroke back at four-under.
Tournament officials said they hope to have most of the downed trees removed by in time for Sunday’s final round.