Golf

Can breakthrough happen at Hillcrest? Three tied for lead in Boise Open

Scott Pinckney hits an approach shot on the front nine Saturday during the third round of the Boise Open at Hillcrest Country Club. Pinckney fired an 8-under 63 to vault into a share of the lead.
Scott Pinckney hits an approach shot on the front nine Saturday during the third round of the Boise Open at Hillcrest Country Club. Pinckney fired an 8-under 63 to vault into a share of the lead. Lagardere Sports

Now it’s a race to the finish.

A trio of players share the lead after three rounds of the Boise Open, the third of the four-event Web.com Finals.

Scott Pinckney, Roberto Diaz and Sangmoon Bae will all tee off at 14-under par when the final round is played Sunday at Hillcrest Country Club.

Check out the Boise Open leaderboard heading into Sunday’s final round

Pinckney was the first to post the leading score. He fired an 8-under 63, the best round of the day and tied for the best round of the week.

Pinckney, who was born in Orem, Utah, and played golf at Arizona State, missed pretty much all of the 2017 season because of a back injury.

“I went through a lot of doubts,” he said. “When I was in pain, I didn’t think I would be able to play again, and then when I did start to play, the game wasn’t there. It took a long time for my game to come back. … My confidence was hanging by a thread.”

He’s clearly in a better place this week, and he’ll bring the perspective of someone who’s fought through a major comeback to Sunday’s final round.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “I’m just going to go out there and enjoy it. … If anything happens and I don’t get my card back, then I’ve got five months to get even more healthy and then a full year out here on the Web.com Tour. So I can’t hurt my position, I’m just going to go out and have fun.”

The 29-year-old has played on both the Web.com and PGA tours but hasn’t notched a professional victory.

“It would obviously be incredible to win,” Pinckney said. “I know if I come out and play my game, I have a good chance, especially with how I’m rolling the ball right now.”

Roberto Diaz
Roberto Diaz shot a 6-under 65 on Saturday at Hillcrest to move to 14 under, tied for the lead with two other golfers. Orlando Jorge Ramirez USA Today file

Diaz, the second leader in the clubhouse, sank a 25-foot putt on the 18th green to make par and secure his spot in Sunday’s final grouping.

“The last putt was very important,” said the 31-year-old from Mexico. “That last putt made me more calm towards (Sunday). But it’s going to be a grind and I know it’s going to be a challenge. … I think it’s going to be a shootout.”

Like Pinckney, Diaz has played on both tours. Also like Pinckney, he’s seeking his first pro win.

“It would mean the world,” Diaz said. “I’ve played this tour for four years, one year on the big tour, and I lost in one playoff (the Web.com’s Columbia Championship in 2017). So, obviously, that win still, it still bites me a little bit. Everybody wants to win, but the bad thing about golf is only one guy wins every week.”

He’ll get the chance to be that guy Sunday, as will Bae, the third golfer to get to 14 under.

Unlike Diaz and Pinckney, Bae has won as a pro — and on the PGA Tour. The 32-year-old from South Korea won the HP Byron Nelson Classic in 2013 and the Frys.com Open in 2015.

But he’s had to make a comeback of his own. In 2015, a South Korean court ruled that Bae would have to fulfill his military requirement. His time in the service, from November 2015 to August 2017, kept him away from playing competitive golf.

“It was a hard time. I was telling myself to just keep grinding,” Bae said.

Like the two players he’s tied with, he’s excited about the opportunity in front of him Sunday.

“I’m really happy to see my name’s on the leaderboard,” Bae said. “So I will do my best.”

They will have people chasing, too: Seven golfers are within three shots of the lead.

GOING LONG

The driver is a serious weapon for Cameron Champ.

The Texas A&M product led the Web.com Tour in driving distance this season, averaging 343 yards. The Tour posted a video online of his 430-yard bomb at the 2018 Utah Championship, where he won and secured his first PGA Tour card.

But Champ’s big weapon is somewhat silenced at Hillcrest, which isn’t suited for hitting bomb after bomb.

“It’s not really a course where you can use length,” Champ said. “It’s more about placement out here. There are a few holes you can take advantage of, but it’s more of a risk/reward kind of a deal.”

There were a few holes where his length has come into play this week at Hillcrest. He hit a 388-yard drive on No. 2 on Thursday, and averaged 359.8 yards on the two holes the Tour was using for driving statistics, No. 2 and No. 16.

Otherwise, he had to rely more on his all-around game. Which, in reality, he will have to do if he’s going to have long-term success as a professional golfer.

“I’m long, but I’m still working on other parts of my game, not just my long game,” he said.

That work paid off some Saturday, as he posted a round of 4-under par after shooting 1-under each of the first two rounds.

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