RENO, Nev. (AP) – J.J. Henry says figuring out how many points it will take to win the Reno-Tahoe Open with its odd scoring format is as hard as calculating the elevation changes and swirling wind.
“At times you feel like you are more of a mathematician than a golfer,” Henry said Saturday after making an eagle for the third straight day for a three-round total of 36 points in the modified Stableford scoring system. He had a three-point lead over second-round leader Alexandre Rocha of Brazil.
John Daly and Justin Leonard were among more than a dozen players within striking distance with the format that awards five points for eagle, two for birdie and zero for par. Players are docked a point for bogey and three points for anything worse.
“If you’re going to make some eagles, this is the week to do it,” said Henry, who earned 14 points Saturday in search of his second victory on the PGA Tour to go with his 2006 Buick Open title.
“I really don’t know what to expect. I’m just going to go out and try to get double digits … I’m just trying to get to a magic number and add it all up at the end of the day.”
John Mallinger was third with 32, followed by first-round leader Andres Romero of Argentina with 31.
Daly, who hasn’t won on tour since 2004, had an eagle, four birdies and four bogeys to get into a tie for fifth at 28 with Gary Christian and Bill Lunde, the Las Vegas player match Henry with the best score of the day at 14. Leonard was next with 26.
Padraig Harrington was tied for 14th with 23 points in a group that includes Todd Hamilton, Ricky Barnes and J.B. Holmes, who had a tournament-best 17 points on Friday.
It’s the first time the scoring format that rewards aggressive play has been used on the PGA Tour since the 2006 International in Colorado.
Daly, who won the 1991 PGA Championship and 1995 British Open, drove the ball 315 yards then hit a 200-yard approach to 10 feet to set up his eagle on the par-5 13th.
“My goal coming in here was to make one eagle just to see what it feels like to get five points on one hole and to average nine points a day, and so far I’ve done it,” Daly said. “I’m doing the best I can. I’m accomplishing some short-term goals each day out here and to me, that’s good for me.”
Henry chipped in for an eagle 2 from about 35 feet away after driving his ball near the green on the 308-yard, par-4 14th. He narrowly missed another when he hit his second shot – a 4-iron 280 yards – to 13 feet, but had to settle for birdie on the 616-yard, par-5 18th.
“I’m going to continue to go out and try to play kind of smart, aggressive I guess you could say, when the timing is right,” Henry said. “Obviously, if you’re playing a medal play and you had maybe a couple-shot lead, maybe you’d play a little differently, I don’t know. But I’m really not even going to look at who’s behind me.”
Rocha, who started the second round birdie-birdie-birdie-eagle, finished Saturday with five birdies and a bogey. But he said he expects it will be difficult to catch Henry after “three super rounds.”
“He’s a tour winner. He knows what it takes to close out a deal and I obviously don’t. So right off the bat, it’s advantage him,” said Rocha, who has won nine times around the world since 2000 when he was an All-American at Mississippi State but never on the PGA Tour.
He also said he expects some players to step up their aggressiveness and go for more pins on Sunday.
“We can’t forget the rest of the field that’s behind us and very, very close,” Rocha said. “Because of the format you can have a guy on standby just cruising around and suddenly make a turn, make a couple of birdies and sneak in an eagle, and suddenly there you go.”
Harrington, a three-time major winner, is making his debut in Reno to prepare for next week’s PGA Championship after failing to qualify for the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational this week in Akron, Ohio. He had five birdies and a bogey on Saturday and felt he should have scored better.
“Close all day, but couldn’t get it in the hole, which is a pity,” Harrington said. “You obviously need to make the birdies out there,” he said. “Maybe I’m saving them all for tomorrow.”