VERONA, N.Y. (AP) — Alex Cejka had another strong finish on the back nine to remain in front at the Turning Stone Resort Championship.
Cejka had four birdies on the back nine for the third straight day to shoot a 5-under 67 and take take a two-stroke lead at 15-under 201 after the third round Saturday.
“I still have to go out there tomorrow and try hard and try to shoot a couple under,” Cejka said. “I cannot rely on my two-shot lead and trying to go out there and just shoot even par. I don’t think that would do it.”
Chris Couch tied the course record with a 63 and was alone in second place at 13 under. Billy Mayfair shot a 66 and was in thired place another shot back. He had a 30 on the front nine as he birdied the last five holes before he made the turn, but couldn’t keep the momentum going as he parred every hole on the back.
Couch tied a career best with his bogey-free round. He birdied Nos. 12 through 15 and ended his round with a two-putt birdie – his ninth of the day – at the 615-yard 18th hole. He had a big improvement over the 73 he posted in the second round, when he needed 35 putts. He putted just 26 times in the third round.
“I was just trying to climb up the leaderboard as much as I could today and make a move toward tomorrow, and I ended up being 9 under,” Couch said. “I didn’t even realize how many under I was. But when you get in a situation like that, you don’t want to think about how many under you are. You just want to keep doing what you’re doing.”
Couch has one PGA Tour victory since his first season in 1999. He shot 19 under to win the 2006 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
Charles Warren also had a 63 and was tied with Bill Lunde, Robert Garrigus and Chris Tidland for fourth place at 11 under. Warren had seven birdies and eagled the par-5 12th hole in a bogey-free round. Peter Lonard first set the course record at the 2009 Turning Stone Resort Championship with a 63 in the final round.
Sunshine, temperatures in the mid-70’s and a gentle breeze left the 7,482-yard Atunyote Golf Club almost defenseless. Just three of the 72 players that made Friday’s cut shot over par.
Cejka had a shaky start on the second hole, where he three-putted for just his third bogey of the week. He recovered with a birdie on the par-4 fourth with a second shot that spun back to tap-in range. On No. 5, he reached the par 5 in two and two-putted from 28 feet for another birdie.
Cejka’s next birdie came on another par 5 at No. 12. This time he laid up 77 yards short of the green with his second shot and landed his third three feet from the hole.
Cejka got to 13 under with a birdie putt from inside seven feet on the par-3 16th. His second shot on 17 ended up less than four feet from the cup for another birdie as he became the first player to reach 14-under. At the 615-yard closing hole, he was on the back fringe in two and two-putted for his sixth birdie of the day. He hit 17 greens in regulation.
“I’d rather be two in front than four behind,” Cejka said. “Doesn’t matter what happens tomorrow. The others will have to come, too, but it’s always nice to have the lead. It doesn’t matter by how many.”
Cejka played his first PGA Tour event in 1996 and is competing in his 228th event, but has never won. He finished second at the 2004 International and tied for second at the 2003 B.C. Open. This marks the third time in his career he has held the 54-hole lead, including the 2001 British Open. He has 11 international victories.
“I think in the past I was struggling a little bit with the putter the first couple holes when I had the lead, and suddenly the lead was gone after three, four holes because you make one bad shot, you make a three-putt and suddenly someone makes a birdie and you’re not in the lead,” he said. “I hope I learned something out of it in the past and it will show tomorrow.”
Mayfair has improved his score each day after he opened with a 70 and followed with a 68 on Friday. He has the most success of anyone in the top seven with five victories and 15 runner-up finishes in 23 years on the PGA Tour. However, his last win was in 1998, when he finished on top at the Nissan Open and the Buick Open.
“It was a great temperature out there,” Mayfair said. “The golf course is in great shape, and it was definitely conditions for some good scoring. I took advantage of it on the first nine holes. I didn’t play as good on the back, but six under, I’ll take it.”
DIVOTS: Saturday’s scoring average was 69.11. … Cejka, who is from the Czech Republic, is trying to become the first foreign-born winner in the four-year history of this event. … International players have won 11 of the last 15 PGA Tour events. … The third-round leader/co-leader has won 14 of 32 times on the PGA Tour this season. … The par-4 13th hole is playing the most difficult through the first three rounds, yielding a 4.272 stroke average. The par-5 8th hole is the easiest with a 4.548 stroke average.