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Berger opens 3-shot lead at Travelers Championship

August 6, 2016 GMT

CROMWELL — When he started his final round of the FedEx St. Jude Classic back in mid-June, Daniel Berger was standing in uncharted territory.

He was standing with the lead.

Never before playing in the final pairing and with Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker all breathing down his neck, Berger, who was the 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, didn’t bow to the pressure and won his first tournament victory by a comfortable three shots.

Now, armed with that confidence, Berger is poised to capture win No. 2.

Thanks to a brilliant 8-under 62 over the TPC River Highlands course on Saturday, Berger holds a three shot lead at 15-under (195) heading into Sunday’s final round of the Travelers Championship.

“It was just a great day,” Berger said. “It’s all about hitting good shots under pressure and I’ve been doing that this week, and if I can continue to do that I know I’ll be right there on Sunday.”

Berger’s round included nine birdies, five out of six coming between holes 8 and 13. He hit eight of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. Better yet, he needed just 26 putts to complete the round.

“I just want to go out and keep doing what I’ve been doing these past couple of days,” Berger said. “I want to go out, make a few putts and see what I can do.”

Three shots back at 12-under is Russell Knox, who put together a crafty 6-under 64 to stand at 198 along with Tyrone Van Aswegen and Russell Henley. Patrick Rodgers is alone at 10-under with Brooks Koepka and Paul Casey at 9-under, and Daniel Summerhays, Ryan Moore and Robert Garrigus all at 8-under.

“I’m feeling great. It’s great to be playing for a title. There’s going to be a bunch of guys trying to win this thing, so it’s going to take some great golf and I’m looking forward to trying,” Knox said. “I drove it well, my iron play at times was extremely good and I made a few putts. All in all, pretty good. I hit it well, I wasn’t out of position a lot of times. I hit a bunch of good iron shots and gave myself a lot of chances.”

Knox charged out of the gate with three straight birdies and finished with seven birds to offset one bogey.

Koepka’s 64 included birdies at 5, 8, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 18.

“It’s just fun right now. I’m excited to be out here and playing,” Koepka said. “I felt like I played pretty well. The putter was hot today and I struck it a little bit better, that always helps. I just feel like that hole looks pretty big right now.”

Berger’s season, despite battling a shoulder injury, has been solid. There was a T3 at the Franklin Templeton Shootout, a T5 at the Shell Houston Open and a T9 at the Players Championship. At the FedEx, he took some good-natured ribbing from Mickelson during a weather delay and then went out and never let Lefty into contention, posting a final round 67 to win his first Tour event.

And Berger would love to go out and finish the job here at the Travelers.

“I’ll tell you, it’ll be a lot easier standing on the tee box, knowing that I have a Tour win under my belt,” he said. “You have to be aware of where you’re at but you don’t want to look at the scoreboard every single hole and get taken away with what you’re trying to do. I know I have to play well tomorrow if I want to win.”

Olympians Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed both finished with 2-under 68s, leaving them 10 shots behind the leader, down but not undaunted.

“It was a weird day. I hit a lot of quality shots,” Watson said. “I didn’t hit bad shots, it’s just a couple of bogeys popped up here and there. It’s not good when you’re chasing the lead but it’s still not a bad day. My golf is coming around where I want it to be for the next half of the year.”

Likewise Reed, starting this Thursday with the Olympics in Rio.

“I feel like I’m hitting my driver really well,” Reed said. “I feel like I’m putting pretty well. I missed a couple today but I also made some that I probably wasn’t supposed to make, so the game feels good. I just need to keep on plugging and have it all click for 18 holes and post a low one tomorrow.”

celsberry@ctpost.com;