AVONDALE, La. (AP) — Yet another potential first-time PGA Tour winner topped the third-round leaderboard in the Zurich Classic.
Third-year tour player Nick Watney shot a 4-under 68 on Saturday to reach 12 under and take a two-shot lead over another player who has been seeking a maiden tour triumph for more than a decade, 38-year-old Ken Duke.
Duke shot a 66, the best round of the day in the tournament that has had first-time winners in four of the last five years.
Watney has never entered the final round with the lead.
“I won’t be trying to protect anything,” Watney asserted. “I know that the guys are going to come charging. … This is the PGA Tour, so it’s definitely not going to be easy.”
Mark Calcavecchia, who began the day with a one-shot lead, finished with an even-par 72, leaving him tied for third with Scott Gutschewski (67) at 9 under. Gutschewski also is winless on the tour.
Rookie Kyle Reifers (71) was alone in fifth at 8 under. He shot a course-record 64 on Thursday and had a 73 on Friday.
Calcavecchia, who won an event last month, is one of few familiar names atop the leaderboard. His only major hiccup in the third round was a double bogey on the fourth hole. He also had a bogey on the 16th. Calcavecchia, who could be seen stretching repeatedly during the last two holes, said he tweaked something in his back when he threw his hat on the 16th hole.
“It’ll be all right. Luckily, there was only a couple holes left,” Calcavecchia said. “It’ll be fine by tomorrow.”
Although the pin was set about 300 yards from the tee, Calcavecchia played it safe and laid up to avoid a water hazard on the left and pot bunkers on the right. It seemed like a good move when his shot landed in the middle of the fairway 105 yards from the hole. Then he pushed his approach shot into the rough right of the green and two-putted for bogey.
On the tough par-3 17th, a signature hole with cypress planks imbedded in a bulkhead that separates the green from a water hazard, Calcavecchia put his tee shot on the green. But his 41-foot birdie attempt missed by a foot and he had to settle for par. He narrowly missed a birdie putt on No. 18 as well.
The 25-year-old Watney has never finished higher than fifth, which he did twice last year at the Reno-Tahoe Open and Funai Classic. Having shot a 67 a day earlier to pull himself into contention, he pulled ahead after making the turn in the third round with birdies on the 10th, 11th and 13th holes.
He made birdie puts of 18 and 13 feet on 10 and 13. He drove left into a bunker on the par-5 11th, but put his next shot 63 yards from the pin and hit a wedge within 5 feet to set up another birdie.
Watney was briefly at 13 under after his 18-foot birdie putt on 16, but he needed two shots to reach the green on No. 17 and two-putted for a bogey.
“I’m very excited. I haven’t been leading going into the final round, and obviously it’s just a place you want to be,” Watney said. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow and going to try to learn as much as I can and hopefully come out on top.”
Reifers could have finished closer than he did. He birdied his first three holes of the round to briefly take the lead at 10 under. Then he hit into the water on No. 6, leading to a double-bogey. After working his way back to 10 under, he mis-hit a chip on 17 for a second straight day. Unlike Friday, he couldn’t save par. His struggles continued when his drive on 18 went left, a recurring problem for him during the past two rounds, and landed in a bunker. His second shot landed in the left rough and he ended up with another bogey to close out the round.
Divots: Five players were tied at 7 under, while 10 players were tied at 6 under, meaning 20 players were within six shots of the lead. … Last year’s winner, Chris Couch (75), was 2 over and tied for 64th.