It took most of the day to untangle the mess on the leaderboard, but when the dust finally settled on the third round of the Nationwide Tour’s Cox Classic, two players were tied for first and the rest of the field had moved within shouting distance, if not closer.
California rookies James Hahn and Kevin Chappell scrambled their way to the top of the pile with 17-under-par 196 totals. Hahn carded a 7-under 64 while Chappell, a co-leader after 36 holes, posted a 3-under 68.
From there, it gets interesting as nine players share third place, one shot back. Leading the group is local favorite Scott Gutschewski, who matched his career-low with a 62 and was in the clubhouse nearly four hours before the last groups.
A glance at the board shows 23 players within four strokes of the lead, meaning anyone and everyone has a chance to walk away with the winner’s trophy late Sunday.
“It’s anybody’s game,” said Chappell, who is looking to add this title to the one he captured at the Fresh Express Classic at TPC Stonebrae back in April. “It will be a horse race. You know what you’ve got to do. You can’t play timid, you can’t play away from flags, you’ve gotta just go. Your game plan is decided for you.”
The plan has been the same in Omaha for the past 15 years -- keep the pedal to the metal and make birdies. Lots and lots of birdies.
“I have a number in my head that I’d like to get to on Sunday,” said Hahn. “All I can say is that it starts with a two.”
The average winning score has been nearly 22 under par so the number will have to be a mid-to-high 20s. Most of the field will be firing at flags in much the same way they did Saturday.
Gutschewski and playing partner Paul Claxton made noise early in the day with matching 62s.
“When the other guy is making birdies, you always want to keep up with him,” said Gutschewski, who grew up about 15 miles away. “I just wanted to hang in there and pick up his scraps. We both played good. It seemed like we had birdie putts every hole.”
Gutschewski didn’t really start making putts until he decided to change his putting grip after the sixth hole, when he missed his second short birdie putt.
“What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same results,” he joked. “I figured I might as well try something different.”
So, he changed his grip on the putter and started rolling the ball where he wanted. The results weren’t far behind. The former Nebraska Cornhusker eventually closed his day with a birdie-eagle-birdie finish.
“When you come here you know you’re going to have to shoot about 20-under or better to have a chance,” said Claxton, who shot his career-low score thanks to a back-nine 29. “You come in with that mindset and you just keep your foot on the gas and keep going. You know you’re going to have a bunch of opportunities and you have to be patient and take advantage when you can.”
Most of the field took advantage of course that lends itself to birdies and had no wind to defend itself. The scoring average for the par-71 layout was 68.444.
“Before I teed off I was on the putting green and caught myself staring at it, seeing that I had already dropped six or seven spots,” said Hahn, who broke the logjam with a birdie on the par-5 17th. “I had a little anxiety. I hadn’t even teed off and I was moving back. I told myself not to look and just focus on my own game, hit some good shots, make some putts and we’ll count them up at the end.”
Better bring a calculator on Sunday.
Third-Round Notes: Colt Knost’s 63 was one shy of his career low round. Knost shot a 10-under 62 in the final round of the 2008 Price Cutter Charity Championship, where he earned his second victory of the ’08 season. … Paul Claxton’s 62 was a career best. The Georgia veteran is making his 329th start on the Nationwide Tour. His previous low was a 63 at the 2009 Christmas In October Classic. … Nebraska’s Scott Gutschewski also matched his career low with a 62. Gutschewski shot a 62 in the second round of this year’s BMW Charity Pro-Am, where he finished tied for seventh.
The scoring average for the reachable, par-4 ninth hole was 3.460. The hole yielded only two eagles (Brandon Crick, Jason Gore) but gave up 31 birdies and 29 pars. There was one bogey registered, by Scott Stallings, who promptly then birdied the first five holes on the back nine. … James Hahn leads the field with three eagles. Kevin Chappell and Scott Gutschewski each have two. … Bob May is No. 1 in birdies thus far with 20.