VERONA, N.Y. (AP) — When the wind picked up, Steve Flesch flashed a smile and made certain nobody would catch him.
Seeking his second victory in two months, Flesch thrived again on a windy day, shooting a 6-under 66 on Saturday to take a four-shot lead over Carl Pettersson and Charles Warren after three rounds at the inaugural Turning Stone Resort Championship.
“Believe me, if you’re not hitting well, you don’t want to play in winds because it just magnifies your errors,” said Flesch, who won at Reno in early August under blustery conditions. “But if you are hitting it solidly, wind can only help you. It can only separate you from everybody else. Today, I was glad that it blew, and I hope it blows tomorrow.”
Flesch was at 19-under 197, tying the PGA Tour’s lowest 54-hole score in relation to par this year.
Pettersson (66) briefly tied for the lead after consecutive birdies on the back nine. But despite a stiff wind that made the back nine at the 7,482-yard Atunyote Golf Club course more of an adventure than it had been the previous two days, Flesch rallied with four birdies over the final five holes to keep the top spot to himself.
And he’ll like the forecast for Sunday — a 15 mph wind and 10-degree drop in temperature to the low 70s were predicted.
“I’ll be aggressive when I can,” said Flesch, who completed his round with a 20-foot downhill birdie putt. “Depends on the wind, truthfully. The conditions are going to dictate how aggressively we’re going to be able to play. But Carl and Charles can make a ton of birdies.”
And they know they have to.
“You’ve just got to shoot low,” said Warren, who finished second to Flesch at Reno. “Every day somebody’s shot 8 under, so I imagine tomorrow is going to be the same. Somebody has to come from behind and post a good number, and if you’re close to the lead, you have to go low.”
Warren (68), who is seeking his first PGA Tour victory, birdied his final hole to tie Pettersson. They were two shots in front of Parker McLachlin (65). Michael Allen (68) and Bill Haas (69) were another stroke back at 12 under.
But if Flesch keeps up his impressive iron play — he’s hit 51 of 54 greens in regulation — he’ll be difficult to beat.
“My iron game has been good, so I don’t expect that to change,” said Flesch, who detected a flaw in his swing from a front-page photo in a local newspaper after his second-round 65. “You know, it boils down to putting, hopefully make some birdies early on, relax a little bit.”
Flesch was relaxed from the start on Saturday, rolling in a 17-foot birdie putt on the second hole. He then chipped to inside a foot for birdie on the par-5 fifth hole and hit to within 7 feet at the par-3 sixth hole to set up another birdie that put him at 16 under.
Flesch finished the front nine with three straight pars, including the ninth, where he had made double bogey and bogey the first two rounds. He bogeyed the par-3 11th hole, driving to the left of the green and then flubbing his approach, two-putting from 23 feet, and Pettersson took advantage.
Four shots behind at the start of play, Pettersson began his charge early, hitting a 7-iron to 12 feet and making eagle at the par-5 fifth hole to reach 12 under. He made birdie at No. 13, hitting a 7-iron to 15 feet, and another at the par-3 16th hole with a clutch putt from 20 feet to move within a shot of the lead. He followed that by hitting a gap wedge to 11 feet and making another birdie at No. 17 for a share of the lead at 15 under.
It didn’t last long.
The first two rounds were played under ideal conditions with temperatures in the 80s and very little wind. On Saturday, the sun was still out and it was warm again, but the wind reached as high as 25 mph.
Divots: Flesch has led after 54 holes eight times in his career. After not capitalizing the first five times, he’s converted his last two into victories. … The third-round leader has gone on to win four of the last seven events on the PGA Tour, dating to Flesch’s victory at the Reno-Tahoe Open. … The largest come-from-behind victory on the PGA Tour this year was by Padraig Harrington — six shots at the British Open.