Bradley, Murray fending off big pack at Sony Open

Sports

HONOLULU — The hard work is not over for Grayson Murray, in golf or in life. The final round of the Sony Open might give him a good idea of how far he has come.

Murray got up-and-down from a bunker on the par-5 18th on for birdie and a 6-under to share the lead with Keegan Bradley going into the final round at Waialae in a Sony Open that is hardly a two-man race.

Bradley, a former major champion who has played in two Ryder Cups, is going for his third PGA Tour title in the last 16 months.

Murray’s only PGA Tour win was an opposite-field event more than six years ago. He might be best known for a rant against the tour when he was coping with a drinking problem in 2021, accusing of the organization of not providing support. He also had a spat with Kevin Na on social media over Na’s pace of play. And then there was the scooter accident in Bermuda in the fall of 2022 that injured him. It’s been a lot.

Murray dedicated himself to the Korn Ferry Tour last year, won and was among the top 30 who earned PGA Tour cards. In the first full-field event of the year, he’s in the right place.

“My rookie year was 2017. I was young and thought I was invincible. Wasn’t doing the correct stuff off the course to really give myself the best chance to succeed out here,” Murray said.

He said he has been sober for eight months. The only social media account he keeps is Instagram and he keeps that quiet. And he has a good support system.

“I have a beautiful fiancée that I love so much and who is so supportive of me, and my parents are so supportive of me,” Murray said. “Just makes everything so easy when I got out here inside the ropes when everyone is just in my circle just really pulling for me.

“They’re right there with me when I do have those hard days — and I still have hard days, but I feel a lot more at peace inside the ropes now.”

He might need that in what figures to be a wide-open final round.

Six players were within three shots of the lead, typical for Waialae. It was so chaotic on a gorgeous afternoon up the shores from Waikiki that 10 players had at least a share of the lead at some point in the third round.

Getting some separation was tough, though Bradley and Murray at least got a little.

Bradley hit a cut 6-iron to a back pin to 6 feet for birdie on the par-3 17th, and then his tee shot on the par-5 closing hole avoided the bunker. He had a good enough lie to get it on the green for a two-putt birdie.

That put him at 14-under 196, and Murray soon joined him. They led by one shot over Sam Stevens, who had a 63.

Among those still in the mix is Chris Kirk (67). He won The Sentry last week and at three shots behind can still entertain hopes of joining Justin Thomas in 2017 and Ernie Els in 2004 to sweep the Hawaii swing.

Murray thinks he has turned the corner, and he took plenty of inspiration from Kirk, who had to step away from golf in 2019 to address alcoholism and depression.

“Chris is an inspiration,” Murray said. “I think he’s been pretty vocal about his story as well. You can see the success after he got sober, how quickly he had success out here on tour, became the player that he was before and even better.”

The group at 11-under 199 includes Taiga Semikawa of Japan, playing on a Sony Open sponsor exemption. He is among 21 players on the Japan Golf Tour with the name Taiga. It doesn’t translate to “tiger” but it is pronounced that way, and it’s no coincidence.

The majority of those players are 26 or younger, which dates to 1997, when Tiger Woods shattered records and brought new energy to golf.

“Yes, I was named after Tiger Woods and I kind of took on the way he plays,” Semikawa said through a interpreter. “I grew up watching his aggressive style, and I think that kind of fits my personality and is something I try to replicate in my own game.”

One example was from a fairway bunker on the 14th that Semikawa hit out of to 10 feet. That started a closing stretch of four birdies over his last five holes.

Semikawa never bothered looking at a leaderboard during or after his round. He celebrated his 23rd birthday on Thursday and would appear to be having the time of his life.

For so many others, Sunday will be a time to make birdies and keep going.

“It’s a tricky thing because you can’t be staring at the leaderboard all day,” Bradley said. “If you make a bogey or a few pars in a row, you can go from leading to 12th in a second. I’ve got to go out tomorrow and probably shoot another pretty low one to win.”

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