Sunday, September 30, 2007

MADISON, Miss. (AP) — David Branshaw shot a 3-under-par 69 Saturday to lead by two strokes after three rounds of the Viking Classic, with a crowd of 17 golfers within six shots of his 13 under going into the final day.

Bill Haas had a 70 and was in second place while Chad Campbell moved into contention with a 64 that left him three strokes behind at 10 under. He was tied with Shaun Micheel and Johnson Wagner, who both shot 68s.

Branshaw, Haas and Wagner are among seven golfers in the top 10 seeking their first PGA Tour victories, while Campbell and Micheel are trying to turn around their games.

Two-time champion Fred Funk led a group of nine that sat four back at 9 under and six others were 8 under and well in contention, something Branshaw said he is aware of but trying to ignore.

"You can't control what they're doing out there," Branshaw said. "All you can do is just do the best you can on every shot tomorrow. You can't play defense, you can't be too strong on offense. You can't throw any curveballs like all the other sports. You can't block anybody."

Branshaw took the lead Friday as most players struggled with changing course conditions at Annandale Golf Club, where frequent rain this week gave way to sunny skies and a persistent wind that dried the greens.

He made 11 straight pars Friday, then finished with two birdies for a 68. He opened the Classic with a 66. Branshaw, a 37-year-old golfer from Tampa, Fla., in his third full year on tour, had been bogey-free through 44 holes before making one at No. 9 Saturday. But he had four birdies on par-4 holes and again put together a string of pars, finishing his round with five straight.

Haas, the son of longtime PGA and Champions tours veteran Jay Haas, missed a 9-foot birdie putt at 17 that could have reduced Branshaw's lead. He had three bogeys but he made four birdies, including 13-foot putts on Nos. 2 and 11 and a 12-footer on No. 15.

Haas was 1-over on par 5s, usually the strength of his game.

"So if I can turn that into 3 under tomorrow, that might make the difference," Haas said.

Haas felt good about his position, but said Branshaw will have to falter to be vulnerable.

"David has to hold the lead and if he plays like he did today, he's going to," Haas said.

"He's a friend and I'm pulling for him because I like him."

Campbell said his goal is to make a significant move up the money list. He started his career with four straight top-30 money list finishes and wants to end his fifth year on tour that way. After finishing 14th last year, he's 82nd and needs more than $1 million in his final three appearances of the season to reach that goal.

"It gets you into everything, it gets you into all the majors," said Campbell, a three-time tour winner. "So that's where I'd like to be. I know it's a long ways away, but one step at a time."

A win would turn around a difficult year for Micheel, who won the PGA Championship in 2003, but hasn't won since. He's had two top 10 finishes this year and six in the top 25, but is 105th on the money list with six weeks to go.

He'll likely need a strong finish to stay in the top 125 and keep his tour card, but he said he learned long ago never to take any tournament lightly no matter his position.

"It doesn't matter if it's the first week or now, you always should be grinding," Micheel said.

Grinding is a good way to describe Branshaw's career thus far. He turned professional in 1991, but has been on and off the PGA Tour since with stops on the Nationwide Tour as well.

He had never slept on the lead in the PGA Tour going into the weekend before Friday night and said he got a little flustered when the television cameras turned his way as he moved up the leaderboard in the second round.

He seemed destined for qualifying school going into the FedEx Cup break, but finished tied for 13th at the Turning Stone Resort Championship last week and could avoid the annual qualifier altogether with a win.

The third-day leader has won five of the last eight tournaments at Annandale, but he said he's not thinking about those things going into the final round.

"It's something you can't control. If that happens then it's a reward, you're rewarded by a win. If it doesn't happen, I'll just try again next week," Branshaw said.

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