By RICK BROWN, John Deere Classic Correspondent
Michael Kim turned 25 years old Saturday. And he’s made a total of 25 birdies through the first three rounds of the John Deere Classic.
“Coming into the day I told myself, “It’s your birthday, try to have as stress-free a day as possible,” said Kim, who takes a five-shot lead into Sunday’s final round. “I’m very satisfied with the score I shot today.”
Kim birdied five of the final six holes Saturday to post a third-round 64, matching his second-round score. He opened with a 63 Thursday. In 254 career rounds on the PGA Tour entering the John Deere Classic, Kim’s career-best round had been a 64 at the Career Builder Challenge.
Kim’s 22-under-par 191 score gives him that five-shot cushion over Bronson Burgoon, who shot 66 Saturday. Matt Jones also shot 66 and is in third at 16 under.
Harold Varner III (66, 15 under), Andres Romero (64, 14 under) and Sam Ryder (67, 14 under) round out the Top Five.
Kim and Burgoon were two of 23 players who had to complete their weather-delayed second rounds starting at 8 a.m. Saturday. Kim bogeyed his remaining hole to give him a three-shot lead heading into the third round. Burgoon had to play three holes to complete his PGA Tour career-best 62.
Kim never relinquished the lead on a day that saw two weather delays and finished just before dark. He’s had just one bogey in each of the first three rounds to go with those 25 birdies.
Asked what he’s done well this week, Kim said, “Everything, really.”
Kim said he’ll stick to the same game plan Sunday that’s put him in a position to collect his first PGA Tour victory
“More of the same,” Kim said. “I knew coming into the day that par was not going to be good enough. I’m trying to stick to my game plan.”
That game plan includes accurate iron play and a hot putter. He hasn’t been in a bunker all week and he’s made 372 feet of putts.
Burgoon is also looking for his first PGA Tour victory.
“A lot of these guys have won at different levels,” Burgoon said. “The PGA Tour obviously is a different deal, but it is what it is. Everyone is going to go out there and try their best.”
Jones has won, at the 2014 Shell Houston Open. He has struggled to get his game back to that point in recent seasons, but has been encouraged with his putting of late.
“Everyone is going to go low,” Jones said. “I know that playing in the final group and being the leader, you’re always going to be edgy and a little bit more uncomfortable. And everyone is going to make as many birdies as they can to catch (Kim).”
Romero posted his second 64 of the tournament Saturday. He recorded his lone PGA Tour victory in 2008 at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, and he’s also won twice on the European Tour. He is best known for nearly winning the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, where the championship will be played next week.
Romero had 10 birdies in the final round and had a two-shot lead with two holes to play. But he missed the Sergio Garcia-Padraig Harrington playoff by a shot after finishing double bogey-bogey.
Romero has a chance to get back in the British Open next week. The highest non-qualified player who finishes in the Top Five at the John Deere will get a spot in the season’s third major.
“I have always dreamed of going back to Carnoustie, so it’s going to a little bit of pressure,” Romero said. “But I think I’m going to handle it.”
The resumption of the second round and the twice-delayed third round meant Kim spent 14 hours at TPC Deere Run on Saturday. Which kind of puts a damper on any birthday plans he had.
“I’ll be in the hotel, probably after a quick dinner,” Kim said. “By myself.”
Kim is part of the high school Class of 2011, which produced players like Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Xander Schauffele. All four have won on the PGA Tour. Kim could add his name to that list on Sunday.
“I’ve got a decent-sized lead,” Kim said. “But a lot can happen in 18 holes, so I’m going to have to stay sharp and stay focused.”