Rickie Fowler four-putt leaves Kang Sung-hoon in control at Houston Open

Ewan Murray in Houston
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Rickie Fowler is second at the Houston Open and will play the fourth round with the leader, Kang Sung-hoon.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Eric Christian Smith/AP</span>
Rickie Fowler is second at the Houston Open and will play the fourth round with the leader, Kang Sung-hoon. Photograph: Eric Christian Smith/AP

If Rickie Fowler is to fall short in his pursuit of the Houston Open, Hercule Poirot will not be required to investigate the cause of such a scenario.

Fowler staggeringly four-putted the 18th hole of his third round on Saturday, contributing to a double bogey and the handing of a three-stroke lead to Kang Sung-hoon with 18 holes to go. Fowler, who had also dropped a shot at the 17th, was eight under par through 14 holes of round three, rendering his 67 something of an anti-climax.

Conspiracy theorists may suggest Fowler actually does not want to win on the wrong week; the first major of the year is within touching distance, after all. Fowler’s 22 birdies through 54 holes is a personal record on the PGA Tour. “I probably have to get to 30 to bridge that gap,” he admitted.

Kang, seeking to claim the Masters berth that would come with Houston glory, completed a 71 to move to 17 under par. Despite the evidence provided by Fowler’s early third-round surge, this event is now the Korean’s to lose. Context as to his Houston form is provided by the fact 71 was his worst round in three days by six shots.

“I’ll keep on playing my game. I really don’t care what the others do,” insisted Kang. “If I qualify for the Masters, I’ll think about it. Even if I think about it before, it’s going to happen or not. Why do I want to think about that? I’m so tired right now. I have no power to think about anything.”

Luke Donald, who had earlier produced successive 71s, slipped to a third round of 76. Donald’s compatriot Chris Wood signed for a 71 and two-under aggregate while Justin Rose, so prominent in the early stages of the tournament, is at minus five after a 73. Rose has Andy Sullivan for company on that total after the Nuneaton man carded his finest round of the week, a 67.

Sunday’s biggest challenge in Houston may relate to the weather. With a storm forecast, tournament organisers have already decided to implement a two-tee final round start. Competitors will also play in threes as opposed to the standard two-balls for competition conclusions. The possibility of a Monday finish, as would be readily considered elsewhere, is complicated by what would be a move into Masters week.

Charley Hull is four shots off the lead after two rounds of the first women’s major of the year, the ANA Inspiration, in California. The 21-year-old from Kettering made a second-round 72; the American Lexi Thompson leads on eight under par.

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