DETROIT – Troy merritt took off his cap and briefly bowed his head to greet a roaring crowd after his first career ace on the PGA Tour.
He couldn’t enjoy this moment for long.
Merritt’s hole in one gave him a three-shot lead, but he hit the next hole with a bogey and pulled a 67-under-5 on Saturday. Joaquin niemann took advantage of the opening to share the lead in round three at the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Niemann, who shared the 36-hole lead with Tom lewis, tied for two 46-foot strokes at 17. He parried the last hole, the most difficult at Detroit Golf Club, for a 68.
Hank Lebioda (66) and Cam Davis (67) have suffered a stroke, and Brandon’s leave (68) was another shot behind. Lewis (71) was one of six players three shots back with a legitimate shot on the relatively short course with receptive greens.
“The mindset will be to make a few birdies, but give none,” Merritt said. “Make them work to come and get us, and I hope it will be good enough in the end.”
Rickie fowler (68) was in a 10-pack five-shot back, while the first-round leader Davis thompson (72) was six shots back. After opening with a course record tying 63, Thompson played the last 36 holes in 1 with rounds of 73 and 72.
Merritt, 35, had his first hole-in-one on the PGA Tour – 219 yards with a 5 iron on a rebound – to give him a three-stroke advantage.
Merritt was excited, and fans too, a year after no spectators were allowed to attend the Rocket Mortgage Classic 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s great to have the fans back here shouting and yelling the right things,” he said, “doing the wrong things and even hearing some of the comments you probably don’t want to hear.”
After his bogey, he finished with six consecutive starts.
Merritt, a native of Iowa, won his second PGA Tour title at the 2018 Barbasol Championship. The following year, he missed two months of competition due to surgery that removed a rib after having a Blood clot that went from his chest to his left elbow.
He entered this week with three Top 10 rankings this year – including a pair in May – to place him in one of the best results in a year since his PGA Tour debut in 2010.
Merritt quickly rose to the top of the standings after starting his Saturday round at 9 under, a nod to the head. He made four birdies on seven holes and lamented not having another, missing a 14-foot putt on the ninth hole.
His ace on the 11th par-3 put him at 6 under for the day, and he might have struggled to recover.
“We had time to get settled before the next tee shot,” insisted Merritt.
Merritt, however, missed the right fairway on the 12th par-4 by 493 yards. Then he was long on a 14-foot chip and putt, giving him a bogey and reducing his lead to one stroke.
Niemann, 22, had two birdies in his last five holes, which saw him win for the second time on tour. He became the first Chilean player to win the PGA Tour at the Greenbrier in 2019.
“Everyone is going to have their own moment, and I had my moment pretty early on,” said Niemann, who has finished in the top 10 four times this season.
Reigning champion Bryson De Chambeau missed the cup and left Detroit without speaking to reporters, leaving questions about the change of caddy on the eve of the tournament that he did not address in an Instagram post.
“I haven’t done my best this week, but sometimes it’s golf,” DeChambeau wrote.