HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Brian Gay is a round away from his second career victory — and from validating his place among PGA Tour winners.
Gay shot a 4-under 67 on Saturday and grabbed a three-stroke lead over Tim Wilkinson through 54 holes in the Verizon Heritage.
The former two-time Southeastern Conference champion at Florida already owns a tour title. But it was at the 2008 Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico, when most of the golf world was watching the bigger names at the World Golf Championships Match Play event.
In all, 2008 was a career-making year for Gay: He won a personal best of more than $2.2 million, made 20 cuts and had 12 top-25 finishes.
And while most of the tour stars aren’t at Harbour Town Golf Links after last week’s Masters, Gay understands no one would poke holes in this potential victory.
“Who else is playing doesn’t really matter,” Gay said. “I think it will be validation of winning last year. I did it once and I’ll do it again.”
Especially if Gay plays as steadily as he has so far. He has made one bogey in 54 holes, while driving it straight and true on the course’s narrow, tree-lined fairways.
“Brian Gay is a fine player,” said Lee Janzen, a two-time U.S. Open winner. “He doesn’t get in trouble off the tee and he’s a really good putter. I imagine if he continues to play that kind of steady golf, it will take a great round to catch him.”
Wilkinson, a lefty from New Zealand seeking his first tour victory, finished with a 65, tied for the low third-round score.
Janzen hasn’t won on tour since the second of his U.S. Open victories in 1998. He had two late birdies for a 69 that kept him in third.
Todd Hamilton, the 2004 British Open champion, was next, one shot further back after his 72.
Gay moved into the lead Friday with five straight birdies on the front nine. He kept it on Saturday with his mistake free-play.
Entering with a one-shot lead, Gay’s round got going with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 fifth hole. He extended things a hole later, rolling in a testy, sloping 10-footer. Gay’s final birdie came on the par-5 15th with a nifty 20-foot putt.
He had consecutive birdies on the fifth and sixth holes to move to 11 under.
Wilkinson began the day five shots behind, but used four consecutive birdies to close his front nine and jump up the leaderboard.
Wilkinson tied for second in last year’s Valero Texas Open and won more than $1.1 million in his first tour season.
This year hadn’t gone as well so far, with Wilkinson missing four cuts in his eight events. His best finish was a tie for 38th at Mayakoba.
Harbour Town is much more to Wilkinson’s liking.
“A course like this where you have to position your ball and things like that, it suits me a lot better,” Wilkinson said.
Janzen scrambled his way through the Lowcountry course. He opened with a bogey, then made eagle a hole later. Two straight bogeys dropped him back on the front nine. But consecutive birdies on the 16th and 17th holes got him back in the game.
PGA Tour folk hero Boo Weekley was hoping for his third consecutive win at Harbour Town. He’ll need a record-setting final round to make that happen after his 70 dropped him 11 shots behind Gay.
Gay said he took a five-shot lead into his last round in Mexico, but was far from comfortable. He worried about maintaining his margin and wound up losing some aggressiveness in his game.
“It was tough just trying to make par, you know, because I wasn’t shooting at the flags and I had a bunch of 30-footers trying to two putt,” Gay recalled. “It’s not that easy.”
He expects to hold his composure much better after his latest third-round lead.
“I think it can only help going out and playing solid today and coming out tomorrow and see if I can go out and do the same thing tomorrow.”
Divots: Weekley didn’t lose his humor, even if he didn’t climb into contention Saturday. Weekley’s approach to the first hole rolled to the edge of the gallery, toppling a fan’s plastic cup. When told he spilled the drink, Weekley quipped, “I’ll give you a dollar.” … Janzen’s par on the 10th was anything but routine. He hit an awful tee shot way right into the water. He put his third shot off the green, then chipped in for 4. … Former champion Peter Lonard’s round included an unlikely eagle on the par-4 16th. Lonard holed his approach from 127 yards out. He followed that with another 2 on the par-3 17th. He was 2 under after a 68.