Bhatia birdies final 2 holes for a 4-shot lead in Texas Open

Akshay Bhatia is one round away from going to the Masters. The 22-year-old birdied his final two holes for a 68.

SAN ANTONIO — Akshay Bhatia wrote a reminder on his wrist Saturday before the third round of the Valero Texas Open to “Race My Race.” The idea was to not worry about anything but his own golf, and that gave the rest of the field plenty to worry about.

Bhatia birdied his last two holes at the TPC San Antonio for a 4-under 68, taking a four-shot lead over Denny McCarthy into the final round as he tries to get the last spot in the Masters.

McCarthy was the only player who managed to stay close to the 22-year-old Bhatia, and his three birdies in a four-hole stretch in the middle of the back nine enabled him to cut the lead to two shots. He closed with three pars for a 67.

Bhatia hit a perfect drive on the reachable par-4 17th to just short of the green, which featured a front pin. His pitch wasn’t anything special, but he holed a 12-foot putt. On the closing par 5, he laid up and hit wedge to a back pin to just inside 10 feet and made the birdie putt.

Bhatia was at 15-under 201. After McCarthy, the next closest player to the lead was Brendon Todd, who shot 70 and was seven shots behind.

The message was related to Bhatia’s work with a psychologist, as he has been working extra hard on the mental side of his game. There was a temptation to worry about matters outside his swing, how he would deal with a large lead or if he had lost the lead.

So the message behind “Race My Race?”

“Going at my own pace, focusing on myself, keeping the blinders right in front of me,” Bhatia said. ”I look at that all the time because you can get caught up in a lot of things out here and if I’m just kind of doing my own thing and trying not to let outside stuff bother me, then I just can focus on myself. And whatever the outcome is, it is.”

Jordan Spieth provided plenty of entertainment, not necessarily good for his score. He opened with a pair of bogeys. He had four birdies to get into the top 10. And then he played the 18th.

His drive was well to the left near the base of a tree. Spieth chose to go further left because there was no out-of-bounds, and he advance that some 80 yards. Then he tried to go toward the green, except it landed on a roof and rolled into the roof’s gutter.

After free relief, he punched out of rough onto the green about 45 feet away, leaving him a chance for him to make par. Instead, he left the putt 8 feet short and three-putted for a double bogey. All that for a 72.

Rory McIlroy opened with a double bogey, got those two shots back with birdies, dropped further back with a pair of bogeys on the back nine and finished with two birdies. It wasn’t quiet as adventurous as Spieth, but he also shot 72 and was 10 behind in his final tournament before going to the Masters.

A victory would give Bhatia the final spot in the Masters, set aside in case the Texas Open winner is not already exempt. He also would be exempt for the U.S. Open with his second victory since last June. Bhatia won the Barracuda Championship last summer, which was held opposite the British Open.

McCarthy has never won on the PGA Tour, but he makes his Augusta National debut next week from being in the top 50 in the world ranking.

Bhatia’s lead is the largest in 20 years at the Texas Open. McCarthy has his work cut out.

“There’s no pressure. He’s playing really good golf. I know I’m going to have to go out and play another solid round of golf,” McCarthy said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge tomorrow. I’m going to go out and try to play some free golf.”

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