Keith Clearwater (Orem, Utah) threatened the course record with a sizzling 9-under-par 63 on Thursday at TPC Eagle Trace, but fell one shy in that quest. However, he’ll have a three-stroke cushion heading into Friday’s final round of the 2010 Champions Tour National Qualifying Tournament. Clearwater has a 54-hole total of 16-under-par 200.
Lee Rinker (Jupiter, Fla.) moved into sole possession of second place after a 6-under-par 66 and is at 13-under-par 203. John Morse (Marshall, Mich.) is third at 11-under-par 205. There is five-way tie for fourth place.
Clearwater started the third round tied for second, three strokes behind second-round leader Frankie Minoza. But after a round that included 10 birdies and just one bogey, he was looking to match the course record 10-under-par 62 established in 1989 by Dan Pohl at the Honda Classic and later tied by Tim Herron in 1996 at the same event. Clearwater got to within one of the record at 9 under par through 16 holes, but narrowly missed a birdie opportunity at No. 17 when his putt just slid over the edge. He got up and down for par at No. 18.
“I’ve really hit it well the last two days and I didn’t leave a lot of waste out there today, said the 51-year-old Clearwater. “You know every guy can come off the golf course every day and look back and say maybe I could have been six or seven better, but today, maybe two shots for me. It just feels great to kind of complete things; to finish things off. I played really well and didn’t make too many mistakes.”
Clearwater played in 15 events on the Champions Tour in 2010, earning $137,293. His best finish came in his final start at the AT&T Championship where he was a tie for 13th.
Looking ahead to Friday’s final round, Clearwater knows there is still much golf to be played as he seeks a full exemption for 2011.
“You know it’s just going to be playing one shot at a time. I switched to a long putter later in the year and it’s made a difference. It makes those bad days much better,” the two-time PGA Tour winner added. “This tournament is like a football game. We’ve played three quarters and you know someone can still score three touchdowns on you tomorrow. Today was another one of those mini-tests and it’s good to finish like I did.”
Second-round leader Minoza (Manila, Philippines), who started the day with a three-stroke lead, struggled on the front nine, shooting a 3-over-par 39 and never recovered from his slow start. He goes into the final round tied for ninth, eight strokes behind Clearwater.
Robert Thompson (Huntsville, Tex.), the medalist here at TPC Eagle Trace in the 2008 Champions Tour Qualifying Tournament, fired a 6-under-par 66 and continued his climb up the leaderboard. He was tied for 34th after the first round and is currently tied for fourth.
There will be no cut in the 72-hole qualifier. At the close of the event on Friday, the top five finishers will earn fully-exempt status for the 2011 season, while the next seven players will be conditionally exempt. In the event of any ties for positions 6-12, playoffs will take place to establish priority order. In addition, the top 30 finishers and ties will be eligible to compete for spots in open qualifiers at all co-sponsored events on the Champions Tour in 2011.
Q-School Notes: R.W. Eaks withdrew during his round due to a recurring back issue which has plagued him the last few years on the Champions Tour. … Jimmy Blair also withdrew prior to the start of the third round. … With his 10 birdies on Thursday, Keith Clearwater has now totaled 22 birdie through 54 holes. … Lee Rinker and Sonny Skinner have the fewest bogeys through three rounds – three. … Clearwater and Rinker are the only two players in the 76-player field to have posted three straight rounds in the 60s. … Robert Thompson recently won the Senior PGA Professional National Championship in California.