Varner takes slim lead into final round of Saudi International

Jan 23, 2022; La Quinta, California, USA; Harold Varner III plays his shot from the second tee during the final round of the American Express golf tournament at Pete Dye Stadium Course. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 5 (Reuters) - Harold Varner III sank a birdie putt on the final hole to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Saudi International after shooting a two-under 68 at the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club near Jeddah on Saturday.

Varner and fellow overnight leader, Spain's Adri Arnaus, matched each other for much of the day before the American edged ahead on the par-five 18th.

Varner finished the third round at 12-under for the tournament, one ahead of Arnaus, who carded a one-under 69. Briton Tommy Fleetwood was two shots back after a three-under 67, while Australia's Cameron Smith was four shots off the pace.

"(It was about) just hanging in there. Really good pins today on 11, 12. So I just did a good job of just slowing down and just doing my job," Varner, who is seeking his second career title, told reporters.

On another windy day where scoring was tough, Varner got off to a less than perfect start, dropping a shot on the third before bouncing back with an eagle and birdie on the next two holes.

"(The eagle) was good. Yeah, it happened quick. It was just a good rebound. I hit a really good drive, and you're just trying to make birdie and lucked up and hit the pin," Varner added.

Two bogeys on the back nine threatened to hand the advantage back to Arnaus, but the 27-year-old was left to rue missed chances after mistakes on the 14th and 16th holes left Varner in sole possession of the lead.

"The velocity of the wind, yeah, it was tricky because I would say that the greens are a bit more crisper than the other days. You can tell that they are drying out ... so, yeah, I think it's a little bit tougher than yesterday," said Arnaus.

Former world number one Dustin Johnson stayed in the hunt for a third straight title at the event with a three-under 67 that put him five shots from the top. The round of the day, however, belonged to Paul Casey, who climbed to 14th after a six-under 64.

Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru; Editing by David Holmes

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