The smile is back. The confidence is back. The swagger is back. And so might be Jason Gore.
Okay, the smile never really leaves the 34-year old outgoing Californian, but his game has been missing in action in recent times.
Gore went back to basics a week ago and is finding dividends quickly as he tries to salvage his 2010 season before the Nationwide Tour’s lights go out on Halloween Sunday in South Carolina.
Gore fired a 6-under 65 Saturday and moved into the 54-hole lead at the Miccosukee Championship. His bogey-free effort put him at 16-under par and two shots in front of Canada’s David Hearn (67) and four in front of 36-hole leader Keegan Bradley (70) heading into Sunday’s finale.
WNB Golf Classic winner Nate Smith (66) is in solo fourth at 11-under and five back. A handful of players – Scott Dunlap (66), Scott Gutschewski (67), Paul Claxton (67), Won Joon Lee (67) and Gavin Coles (64) – are knotted at 10-under and six back.
Gore, a six-time winner on Tour, appears to have regained his confidence at just the right time. The 36-year old Californian has struggled mightily in 2010 and entered the week No. 124 on the money list. After this week, there is only one full-field event left, followed by the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island where only the top-60 money winners are invited to play for $1M.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve been battling things, just thing. Brain,” admitted Gore, whose T16 at last week’s Chattanooga Classic was his first in 18 starts this year. “You get caught up in trying to be better and be better and tinker and switch and try to make your golf swing better. You really just have to stand up and do what you know how to do.”
What Gore has rediscovered the past two weeks is an old swing and a relaxed confidence that has eluded him. His last top-10 was a T7 at the 2009 U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee 15 months ago.
He began the third round one back of Bradley and tied with Hearn as the trio headed for the first tee. Three birdies in his first five holes gave him a lead he would not relinquish during a windy Saturday in southwest Miami.
“It’s always nice to get off to a good start,” said Gore, who hasn’t held a 54-hole lead since winning the 2005 84 LUMBER Classic on the PGA TOUR. “It was a nice day. The course was there for the taking.”
So he took it. Gore rolled in six birdies to bring his weekly total to a tournament-best 18, but he also saved par six times, including at the closing 18th hole. His best save came at the par-5, 16th where his third shot from heavy rough came up well short and in a deep greenside bunker.
“I just got too cute with it,” he said. “I should have blasted it over and done my work from the back of the green. It was sitting down in some heavy stuff and came out slow.”
Gore’s long bunker shot also came up short by about 12 to 15 feet.
“I watched David’s (Hearn) putt go by the hole and I knew exactly what it was going to do and all I had to do was move the putter and get it started where I was looking,” he said. “Sometimes you have to do that. I was telling myself to refuse to make bogeys today. If I can keep making as many birdies as I have been the first three days and eliminate the mistakes, I should be okay.”
And everyone else will be in trouble.
Gore has held the 54-hole three times on the Nationwide Tour and once on the PGA TOUR. He is a perfect 4-for-4 when playing out front.
“I like it there. In NASCAR they say they like the ‘clean air,’” he said. “I’ve won six times out here so I know what I’m doing. I know patient you have to be and how one-shot-at-a-time you have to be. I can’t control what any of them are doing. It’s a good start for sure. All I can do is worry about the tee shot on one tomorrow and play golf from there.”
* In order to accommodate a 4 p.m. finish time on Sunday for The Golf Channel, final-round play will be in threesomes off the 1st and 10th tees. Tee times will run from 9:30—11:10 a.m.
* Jason Gore, David Hearn and Keegan Bradley were in the final pairing today and will be in the final pairing again on Sunday.
* Jason Gore will be in search of his seventh career title on Sunday. Gore’s six victories have him tied for the most career wins in Tour history with Sean Murphy, Matt Gogel and Kevin Johnson.
* This is the fourth time that Jason Gore has held/shared the 54-hole lead on the Nationwide Tour. The last time came at the 2005 Scholarship America Showdown, where he led by 1 and went on to win.
* The last time Jason Gore held/shared a lead on the PGA TOUR came at the 2009 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla, where he held a one-stroke lead after the first 18 holes.
* David Hearn is in search of his second career title this week. Hearn’s first win came at the 2004 Alberta Classic (his 4th start of the ’04 season). This is his 128thstart on Tour since winning in Canada.
* David Branshaw (69-68-68) is at 8-under par and T13 heading into Sunday’s final round. Branshaw should become the 20th player in Tour history to top the $1M mark in career earnings. Branshaw has pocketed $996,982 in his years on Tour and needs only $3,018 to reach that total. If Branshaw finishes better than 38th this week, he will go over the $1M mark on Sunday.
* Gary Woodland had birdied all three of the par-5s on Thursday and Friday and played them birdie-eagle-par today. Woodland is 9-under on the par-5s this week and is 1-over on the other holes. Woodland (68-68-69) is 8-under for the week and T13.
* James Hahn, No. 25 on the money list, 70-66-68, is at 9-under par and T10 heading into tomorrow’s final round.
* Scott Gardiner, winner of last week’s Chattanooga Classic shot a 4-under 67 today to get to 9-under 204. He moved up from a T23 to a T10 heading into Sunday’s closer. Gardiner is No. 24 on the money list.
* Six of the top-10 leading money winners are not competing this week: No. 1 Jamie Lovemark, No. 2 Chris Kirk, No. 5 Hunter Haas, No. 6 Martin Piller, No. 8 Kevin Chappell and No. 10 Bobby Gates. Lovemark and Chappell received sponsor exemptions in this week’s PGA TOUR event, the Frys.com Open in San Jose, Calif.
* There is one full-field event left on the 2010 schedule after this week – the Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open. The season ends with the top-60 money winners competing at the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island, Oct. 25-31.