SILVIS, Ill. (AP) — Suddenly, golf is fun again for Nathan Green. And now the Australian is in position to claim his first PGA Tour victory.
Green moved a step closer Saturday, shooting a 3-under 68 in the third round of the John Deere Classic and maintaining a one-stroke lead.
He is at 15-under 198 through 54 holes and withstood pushes by 2006 Masters runner-up Tim Clark (66) and Jonathan Byrd (65). Clark is 14 under after finishing with three straight birdies, and Byrd is two strokes off the lead.
Green, a 32-year-old player from New South Wales, Australia, had never led a PGA Tour event after two rounds until he shot 63 on Friday to go 12 under. That gave him a one-stroke lead over Carl Pettersson and Jason Dufner, and the momentum carried into the third round.
Now, he’s one round from victory.
“To come here and get over the jet lag and play this well is probably a bit of a surprise,” he said.
This comes after he spent the past three weeks relaxing back home in Australia following the U.S. Open, where he missed the cut. Now, he’s trying to become the third Australian in four years to win the Deere, joining Mark Hensby and John Senden.
Green didn’t practice during his break and only played “cart golf with a few beers.” In fact, he probably spent more time on the soccer field.
While clearing his mind, he apparently fixed whatever was wrong with his game. He arrived back in the United States on Monday a little jet-lagged but clearly refreshed.
“I think it gave me a chance to just put golf back into perspective a little bit,” he said. “I was taking it a little bit too serious and thought it was all sort of life and death out there. But I tried to come back and tried to get a little bit of the enjoyment back into the game and try to smile a little bit.”
He rarely showed emotion on the course, even though he had reason to smile.
Green drove a 145-yard approach shot within 5 feet of the cup on No. 5, setting up his second birdie of the round. He also birdied the sixth and eighth holes to go 16 under, before bogeying 11 and 12. That put him at 14 under and, momentarily, in a tie with Byrd.
Green recovered with birdies on 13 and 14, but a chip shot on 17 sailed over the green. He then tried to putt up a slope but the ball stopped short of the green. He bogeyed the hole, leaving him one shot ahead of Clark.
“In four days of golf, there’s going to be a certain patch where you don’t play well or you’re going to have a couple of bogeys,” Green said.
But there’s little room for error with Clark and Byrd right behind him.
Clark had several cortisone shots two weeks ago for neck pain and is still not 100 percent, although it was tough to tell given the way he finished. Even so, he’s not sure he’ll go to the British Open if he qualifies.
“At least now I’m swinging freely,” he said. “It’s sort of not in the back of my mind whether my neck is going to hurt on every swing.”
Byrd, who won the 2002 Buick Challenge and took the B.C. Open two years later, had trouble on the final two holes.
He saved par on 17 after sending his tee shot into the rough on the right, but couldn’t do the same on 18. This time, he wrapped his second shot around an oak tree and into the water to the left of the green, settling for what he called a “great bogey.”
“I guess everybody’s game is an adventure,” Byrd said. “I know Tiger’s is at times. That’s just golf. You hit spots and try to find a way out of it, get creative.”
With the British Open next week, most top golfers skipped this event, and the Deere lost one major draw last month and another on Friday. First, Michelle Wie withdrew because of wrist injuries. Then, Masters champion Zach Johnson missed the cut.
With the 15th-ranked Johnson out, the only top 50 player left in the field was Pettersson at 46. It became clear early he wasn’t going to make a move. He was 3 over for the day before finishing with a 71.
Now, the attention is on Green.
“He’ll be fighting some nerves out there, I’m sure,” Byrd said.