Saturday wasn’t the type of day four-time Nationwide Tour winner Darron Stiles envisioned going into the third round of the Nationwide Tour’s WNB Golf Classic at Midland Country Club, but he managed to birdie the final hole to fire 6-under 66 and take a one-stroke. Stiles hit a pitching wedge to six inches for birdie on the par-4 seventh hole and then officials on the course blew the horns because dangerous weather was in the area followed by a torrential downpour. Two hours and 53 minutes later, he tapped in his birdie putt.
“I didn’t exactly expect it to be an eight-hour-plus workday, but I’ll gladly put in eight hours if I know I’m getting paid,” said Stiles, who tied for fourth here in 2008 and tied for third in 2009. “There’s just something about this golf course that suits me. If I had known that, I’d have come here many times before my first in 2008.”
The storm brought 8/10ths of an inch of rain before Stiles, 79th on the Nationwide Tour money list, converted the short putt on the seventh hole. He went on to drop a shot on the par-4 10th hole to fall back to 11 under, but he quickly recovered with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 12 and 13. As the sun was setting on Stiles’ final hole, he found himself tied at 13 under with Brett Lederer, but he managed to roll in a 10-foot birdie putt and fist pumped his way to the scoring tent.
“It feels great to be back in contention,” said the all-time Nationwide Tour money leader. “Tomorrow is going to be a combination of hitting the gas pedal and staying patient. This course is tight but I’ll have the gas pedal all the way down from the start with my driver. At times it’s been the straightest club in my bag so I might as well go with it.”
Stiles has been the 54-hole leader/co-leader five times previously in his career and walked away with the victory three of those times. He’s tied for eighth in fairways hit, 30 of 42, and tied for ninth in greens in regulation, 41 of 54.
Stiles’ closest pursuer, Lederer, is playing in just his fourth Nationwide Tour event of the year. Lederer has stringed together rounds of 68-67-68, his career-best 54-hole total, and put himself in a good position to earn a spot in next week’s Soboba Classic -- should he finish in the top-25. And if he wins, he’ll be guaranteed a place to play next year.
“If I win tomorrow I’ll earn my Nationwide Tour card for next year and I’m excited to have that opportunity,” said Lederer, who Monday qualified for the PGA Tour’s Northern Trust Open earlier this year (72-78/MC). “I really want to do well tomorrow so I can at least get into Soboba since it’s only two hours from where I live in Long Beach, Calif. To get a win would be huge since it would mean I could play my way into the top-60 on the money list and earn a spot in the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island.”
A lot is on the line for Stiles and Lederer but they’ll have their work cut out for them Sunday with 29 players within five shots of the lead. Five players are two strokes off the pace: 2007 Byron Nelson Award winner Roberto Castro, 2004 Furman University graduate Matt Davidson, Texan Brandt Jobe, 2006 Duke graduate Nate Smith, and 2007 Kansas University graduate Gary Woodland.
The third round couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for Jobe. He holed his second shot on the 426-yard, par-4 first hole for eagle to jump to 9 under for the tournament and went on to birdie three of the next seven holes to move to 12 under before play was suspended at 1:52 p.m.
“I was talking to it,” said Jobe after holing a pitching wedge from 150-yards on the first hole. “When it came off the club face I yelled, ‘Get down, get down, get down.’ Then when I saw it land on the front of the green and release towards the hole I told it to go in.”
Jobe took his confidence to the par-5 second hole by hitting the green in two shots, but took three putts to get in the hole for a disappointing par.
“I figured the course and I were even,” commented Jobe, who felt like he stole a couple of strokes with his approach shot on the first hole. “I’m going to need to shoot a good number tomorrow to be in contention because there are a lot of players close to the lead.”
Third-Round Notes: Saturday’s scoring average was 69.984. … Third-round play was suspended from 1:52 to 4:45 p.m because of threatening conditions in the area and a torrential downpour. … Darron Stiles has held the 54-hole lead six times in 235 starts on the Nationwide Tour. He has gone on to win twice, at the 2006 Rheem Classic and 2008 HSBC New Zealand PGA Championship. … Brett Lederer leads the field in birdies with 18. … The 54-hole leader/co-leader has gone on to win the WNB Golf Classic eight times.