Jason Day tied for Houston Open lead, with Johnson lurking

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HOUSTON — Jason Day, eyeing his first PGA Tour victory in more than two years, was tied for the lead at the Vivint Houston Open on Saturday, shooting a 3-under 67 less than two weeks after withdrawing during the final round at the CJ Cup because of neck discomfort.

The Australian was in front with second-round leader Sam Burns, who began the day in the lead and ahead by two strokes. He overcame back-to-back early bogeys to salvage a 69.

Day and Burns were at 201, one stroke ahead of Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz. Ortiz, tied for second after each of the first two rounds, also put up a 67. Like Burns, he and several other contenders are chasing their first PGA Tour title.

Top-ranked Dustin Johnson was another two shots back after a bogey-free 66. This was his first start since the U. S. Open following a six-week break brought on by a positive test for the novel coronavirus.

Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., was eight shots off the lead after struggling to a 73. Mackenzie Hughes (70) was another stroke back after a 68 left him at even-par 210.

Johnson nearly put himself out of the tournament after opening with a 72 on the public Memorial Park course near downtown that’s hosting a Tour event for the first time since 1963.

First-round leader Brandt Snedeker’s third-round 76 dropped him far out of contention.

Day has 12 Tour titles -- the 2015 PGA Championship among them -- but none since 2018 after winning eight times over a sparkling two-year stretch in 2015-16 to climb to No. 1. This summer, flummoxed by his long slump caused in part by ongoing back and neck issues, he decided to split with Colin Swatton, his coach and mentor since he was 12.

Day put himself in the mix at the CJ Cup in Las Vegas with a third-round 66 but took a triple bogey on the opening hole of the final round. Then he pulled his approach from the right rough into the water. He called it a day after hitting two shots on the second hole, the first of which he also pulled badly.

Having intended to play every fall tournament to prepare for next week’s delayed Masters, Day returned last week for the ZoZo Championship and finished in a tie for 60th-place.

Austria’s Shepp Straka, also chasing a breakthrough Tour victory, was alone in fourth place at 203, a shot ahead of the fifth-place Johnson after his 66. Straka had held a share of the lead before bogeying the 17th hole.

Dawie van der Walt, a South African who lives in the Houston area, briefly got to the lead at 8 under but lost three strokes to par on the back nine, falling into a sixth-place tie with Aaron Wise.

The Associated Press