BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — Tom Pernice Jr. was easy to ignore Saturday in the AT&T National until he wound up in the lead.
All he did was make 15 pars on an explosive afternoon of birdies and bogeys at Congressional, and his lone complaint was that he made only two putts longer than his shadow. One was from 4 1/2 feet for par, another from 7 feet for birdie.
But it was that steady hand that gave him a 1-under 69 and a one-shot lead over Steve Stricker, leaving the 48-year-old Pernice optimistic about winning for the first time in seven years.
“It will be interesting to see how it goes tomorrow,” Pernice said. “But I’m looking forward to it.”
There were plenty of fireworks on a calm, muggy afternoon that led to so many possibilities until Pernice got up-and-down from just short of the 18th green to finish at 10-under 200.
Stricker is worried about where his tee shots are going, but he made his only two bogeys from the middle of the fairway and made a birdie on the 218-yard 10th hole for the third straight day.
Jeff Overton, the co-leader with Pernice going into the third round, made back-to-back double bogeys by coming up short on the 14th hole and going over the hill on the 15th hole, then answered with consecutive birdies to get back in the game.
“I had it right there in the palm of my hand and just didn’t quite squeeze it,” said Overton, who shot 71 and was at 202 along with Tommy Armour III (66) and Nick O’Hern (67), the left-handed Aussie best known for beating Tiger Woods twice in match play.
Anthony Kim was entertaining as ever, going six holes without a par in the middle of his round.
One minute, the 23-year-old with enormous talent was firing away at flags and making birdies to get within one shot of the lead. Then came consecutive bogeys, one from a bunker and another from driving into knee-high grass of a hazard, and he disappeared. Kim birdied the last hole with a wedge that spun back by the cup and shot 69.
He was at 203, along with Tim Herron (65) and Cliff Kresge, who bogeyed the last hole for a 69.
The final round will be played in threesomes Sunday morning because of thunderstorms in the forecast, although the leaderboard makes it a perfect day for fireworks.
“There’s a bunch of guys on the leaderboard that are four or five shots back that have a great opportunity,” Pernice said. “I’ve got to go out there and perform better and shoot a good score to win a golf tournament. I can’t worry about anything else.”
Stricker, the runner-up at Congressional a year ago, was among four players who had at least a share of the lead throughout the third round, but he hit a 7-iron over the 17th green and caught the lip with a 12-foot par putt from the fringe.
“Overall, it’s two good, solid rounds that got me into a position with a chance for tomorrow,” Stricker said.
Ten players were separated by four shots.
Pernice last won in 2001 at the International, the tournament that the AT&T National replaced on the PGA Tour schedule last year. He has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead each of the last three years without winning, including a 75 in the final round at the Buick Open a year ago. The other two tries were in Memphis in 2007 and Disney in 2006.
It took eight holes for Pernice to make his first birdie, spinning a wedge back 7 feet below the hole. He was solid the rest of the way with everything but the most important club in the bag – his putter – but allowed him the one chance he needed to take the lead because of all the activity around him.
“I gave myself chances,” he said. “And going forward, that’s what you need to do.”
Overton rallied with a birdie on the par-5 16th and, with the wind at his back, a driver over the hill onto the lower level of the 17th fairway that left him a sand wedge that he spun back to 3 feet.
Kim was perhaps the most unpredictable.
He holed a 35-foot birdie putt at No. 6, the toughest hole at Congressional, only to see his tee shot spin back off the green on the seventh for a bogey. He followed with consecutive birdies and was poised to move into the lead until taking a bogey from the bunker on No. 10, then having to get up-and-down for bogey from the thick collar of rough at No. 11 after driving into the hazard.
He made pars from there until a birdie on the final hole.
“I’ve got some positive things to look forward to,” Kim said. “Hopefully, I can keep it up.”
Stricker, meanwhile, got to 10 under with a 15-foot birdie on the 15th until missing the 17th green. He didn’t see too many similarities with last year, when Stuart Appleby lost the lead and K.J. Choi pulled ahead on the back nine of a course where the high rough made it feel like the 1997 U.S. Open again.
“The course is playing a touch easier than last year, and I think that’s reflect in the scores,” Stricker said. “There’s a lot more guys with the opportunity to win. You’re going to have to shoot a good round.”