James Hahn, playing close to his childhood home, shares 54-hole lead at Safeway Open

NAPA, Calif. – James Hahn has a secret advantage at this week’s Safeway Open. He’s sleeping at his childhood home in Alameda, a (...)

James Hahn, playing close to his childhood home, shares 54-hole lead at Safeway Open

NAPA, Calif. – James Hahn has a secret advantage at this week’s Safeway Open. He’s sleeping at his childhood home in Alameda, a suburb of Oakland, where his parents moved to from South Korea when he was 2 years old.

“Bought it for dirt cheap and it’s worth a lot more now,” he said. “But it’s good because I have my family there and the last thing I want to do is be alone in a hotel room having a million thoughts go through my mind and try to play out all the scenarios. It’s easier just to watch – what were we watching the other day? – some Peppa Pig with my daughter. You know, most guys don’t have that luxury of watching Peppa Pig, but I do.”

Hahn, 38, has been making the hour-long drive to Silverado Resort and Spa and he won’t have to hit the road early to beat traffic. He’s earned a spot in the last twosome on Sunday after shooting a bogey-free 5-under 67 on the North Course to share the 54-hole lead with Cameron Percy and Brian Stuard at 16-under 200.

Hahn’s father leased the driving range at Galbraith Golf Course from the city of Oakland – the facility later was renovated by Johnny Miller and re-named Metropolitan Golf Links – and it’s where Hahn took up the game at age 4 and developed his homespun swing through trial and error.

Hahn played his college golf at Cal-Berkeley but despite enjoying the Northern California hospitality, the Safeway Open has never been good to him: He missed the 54-hole cut last year, the 36-hole cut twice, making a T-41 in 2015 his best result in four previous starts.

“My wife said a couple weeks ago, ‘Why do you go to Silverado?’ I go, ‘Why not? I go see my family, it’s a great golf tournament, love supporting the local events.’ She said, ‘You never played well there, why would you want to play there?’ ” Hahn recounted. “It might have a little to do with low expectations and coming out here and finally seeing the breaks and seeing the putts go in. I think that has a lot to do with it.”

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It didn’t hurt that Hahn made three of his five birdies on the par-3s during the third round.

“I mean, those par 3s are tough out there. The one that I didn’t birdie was hole 7. I skanked a 4-iron to 25 feet and hit a great putt,” he said.

Hahn has won twice previously on Tour, most recently at the 2016 Wells Fargo Championship. He’s playing this week on a major-medical exemption after being sidelined for eight months in 2019 with an elbow injury. Hahn has 14 starts remaining to retain his playing privileges, which could create added pressure, but doesn’t seem to be bothering Hahn one bit.

“It’s the same as trying to win a golf tournament, I can tell you that, because you’ve heard it before, winning takes care of itself. It takes care of a lot of problems,” he said. “You know, the medical is just something in the back of my mind, to be honest with you. I come out every week trying to win a golf tournament, so if I can keep my focus there, I think I’m doing things right.”

Hahn will have his hands full on Sunday as 28 golfers are within four strokes of the lead, ranging from 18-year-old Akshay Bhatia (66/T-18) to a pair of 40-somethings in Percy, one of the co-leaders after posting 68, and Stewart Cink, 47, who birdied six of the first eight holes en route to shooting 65 and trails the leaders by two strokes. Cink hasn’t won since the 2009 British Open playoff over Tom Watson, but said, “I remember what it’s like. I mean, it was 11 years ago when I won The Open Championship, but I feel like it was yesterday. I remember that day, after it was all said and done, looking back and thinking I really didn’t do anything all that special today, I was just myself and that’s the key.”

Stuard, 37, has one Tour title at the 2016 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He reeled off three birdies in a row starting at the third and canned a 7-foot birdie at 18 to cap off a 66. Stuard is riding a hot putter this week – he ranks fifth in Strokes Gained: Putting – into the final round.

“I feel like if I drive it well tomorrow and, you know, get the putter rolling, then we’ll see,” he said.

Percy, 46, has never won on the Tour, coming closest when he lost a playoff when Jonathan Byrd made an ace to claim victory in Las Vegas in 2010. He reached 16 under when he canned a 32-foot birdie putt at No. 10, but he required two late birdies to cancel out two bogeys coming home.

What would victory mean to the Australian journeyman pro?

“It would mean the world to me. Yeah, it would be fantastic,” he said. “It would mean I get to go to Augusta, which is a goal. I’ve never been to Augusta, which is the biggest goal you have when you come over here. I just thought I’d get there, I haven’t got there yet, so it’s a big deal.”

Sam Burns, the 36-hole leader, struggled to shoot 72, and shares fourth with Harry Higgs (70) and Kristoffer Ventura (66); all three are seeking their first Tour title. Ventura was the first player to get to 16 under with a birdie at No. 11, but made two bogeys and one birdie on his way to the clubhouse.

“On nine after I made that chip for eagle, I saw that I took the lead and I told my brother, ‘Hey, like it’s pretty cool, that’s the first time I ever led in a PGA Tour tournament’ and kind of marked that off,” Ventura said. “It’s just cool.”

Russell Knox (70), who along with Mark Anderson has played bogey-free this week, leads a group of five golfers at 14 under. Sahith Theegala, playing on a sponsor exemption and making just his fourth Tour start as a professional, surged into contention by shooting 64 to get to 13 under.

Phil Mickelson (T-43) won’t be part of the trophy hunt on Sunday. He posted consecutive bogey-free rounds for the first time since 2016, but declared his 2-under 70 on Saturday his worst round in three months.

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ANA Inspiration: Canada's Brooke Henderson is red hot

For much of the day Saturday at the ANA Inspiration, it was impossible not to expect Canadian flags to start waving from homes at Mission (...)

ANA Inspiration: Canada's Brooke Henderson is red hot

For much of the day Saturday at the ANA Inspiration, it was impossible not to expect Canadian flags to start waving from homes at Mission Hills Country Club or to hear the cheers of “Brooke! Brooke! Brooke!”

But the irony of Canadian star Brooke Henderson’s run up the leaderboard at the ANA Inspiration, a tournament where she is wildly popular, is that no spectators were on the golf course and most if not all of the Canadian snowbirds who live in the desert and root for Henderson aren’t present to support their favorite golfer this year.

“It’s definitely really noticeable,” Henderson said after a 7-under 65 that gave her a share of the 54-hole lead in the LPGA major championship. “But the thing about this place is there’s so much tradition and history here, it’s really special. Even without the fans that we miss a lot, it’s still a great place to be.”


Whether the Canadian fans are back in their home country avoiding the 100-degree temperatures of a desert summer or stuck at home in the desert not able to be on the spectator-less course, they certainly were cheering for Henderson’s best run at the ANA title.

A quick start featuring an eagle on the par-5 second hole and four more birdies on the front nine allowed Henderson to reach 12-under 204. She is tied with Nelly Korda entering the final round of the 49th tournament on the Dinah Shore Tournament Course.

Korda, who held sole possession of the lead after the first and second rounds, stumbled early Saturday with a double bogey on the par-4 sixth hole but rallied on the back nine for a 71 to maintain a share of the lead.

Korda and Henderson will tee off with Katherine Kirk on Sunday in the chase for the major title. Kirk is one of three players at 10-under par, having shot 67 on a hot but windless day at Mission Hills on Saturday. Also at 10 under are 2014 ANA Inspiration winner Lexi Thompson, who shot 69 on Saturday, and South Korea’s Mirim Lee, who shot a 71 while looking for her first major win.

Brooke Henderson during the third round of the 2020 ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Scoring pace slows down

After two days of relatively low scoring on the Shore course with Korda reaching 11 under through 36 holes, the players chasing Korda continued to make birdies and eagles early in the third round.

Korda let those players see the top of the leaderboard when she bogeyed the par-3 fifth hole, then dumped her second shot in the lake in front of the green on the par-4 sixth hole on the way to a double bogey. That dropped Korda back to 9 under, while Henderson was completing a 6-under 30 on the front nine to take the lead.

“I actually missed a short birdie putt on 1, so I was a little bit upset about that,” Henderson said. “I thought I could have a nice eagle opportunity on 2 if I hit a good drive and second, which I was able to do. I just had about maybe 12, 15 feet for eagle and was able to make it.”

Henderson followed that with four more birdies on the front nine, including a birdie on the par-5 ninth just as Korda was making her double bogey.

“You always have to take some time to cool down and process everything, but there’s still so much time, or so much golf to be played,” Korda said of rebounding from the double bogey. “So I mean, I was just thinking one shot at a time.”

While other players slowed down the scoring barrage on the back nine – Henderson had two birdies but one bogey on the closing nine – Korda moved back up the leader board with birdies on the 11th, 12th and 15th holes.

Lee grabbed a share of the lead with Henderson on the back nine, but consecutive bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes dropped her back. Thompson reached 11 under through the front nine, but bogeyed the 10th hole. She then made eight consecutive pars, including a scrambling par at the 13th and a par on the 18th hole where she was one of the few golfers to reach the island green in two from the 525-yard tees for the day.

Nelly Korda during the third round of the 2020 ANA Inspiration at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Beating the desert heat

Korda’s back-nine run came as the temperature in the desert was hitting its highest point of the day, creeping over 100 degrees. But Korda said she didn’t mind the heat too much.

“I’ve been actually very impressed with myself. I’m drinking a lot of water out here. Mixing a little Gatorade in it, though,” she said.

Like Lee and Kirk, Korda will be looking for her first major championship Sunday, while Henderson and Thompson will each be trying for a second major title. Thompson is looking for a second win at Mission Hills.

“There are some leaderboards out there on the back, and I did take a quick glance a few times,” said Kirk after her 67. “But this golf course is not easy, and you have to hit fairways to have a chance, really, of making any birdies. That was the quickest way to get me back into the game plan and focus was to realize, hey, I’ve got tough shots ahead of me. I’ve got to go hit good shots and forget about the leaderboard and just go play golf.”

All the contenders will finish the tournament on the 18th hole without the event’s typical closing atmosphere, though there will still be a leap into Poppie’s Pond by the winner.

“It’s probably most noticeable walking up 18, having the fans there for high-fives and their support coming down the stretch,” Henderson said. “Like you said, it’s still a great place, and it’s still a lot of fun to be here.”

Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at (760) 778-4633 or larry.bohannan@desertsun.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at Sun.@Larry_Bohannan. Support local journalism: Subscribe to the Desert Sun.

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