NEWBURGH, Ind. – Billy Hurley fired a 4-under 68 Saturday and maintained his two-shot lead after 54 holes of the United Leasing Championship on the Web.com Tour.
Hurley started slowly, dropped some birdie putts early on the back nine and then did some solid scrambling at the end to finish at 11-under 205, two better than playing partner Joe Affrunti (68).
Canada’s Adam Hadwin rolled in a rare birdie putt at the treacherous 18th hole to post the day’s best round, a 5-under 67 that moved him into solo third at 8-under 208.
Germany’s Alex Cejka (69) is four off the pace while Clemson’s Ben Martin (69) and Oklahoma State’s Kevin Tway (71) are at 6 under heading into Sunday’s finale at Victoria National Golf Club.
Hurley started with a two-shot lead over Affrunti but managed only one birdie on the front nine, and Affrunti passed him for the lead with a 4-under 32 on his front nine.
“I battled that internally a little bit because I didn’t feel I was playing poorly,” said Hurley, a former lieutenant in the Navy and a 2004 Annapolis grad. “I knew I was playing well and I knew I was hitting a lot of good shots, so I knew it would come and it did.”
Hurley dropped in birdie putts at Nos. 10, 11, 12 and the par-4 14th, which is the toughest of the week and playing to a scoring average of 4.517.
Affrunti, who graduated from Illinois in 2004, birdied the first two holes start the back to give him five in a six-hole stretch.
“I didn’t know that at all,” he said when asked about his round afterward. “Five in six holes? I had no clue. When you’re out there playing, it’s about trying to make some more birdies. You’re swinging it good and there’s no reason to pull off. You just go after it and see how many you can make.”
Affrunti added a birdie at the par-5 15th to pull within one of Hurley as they prepared for the final three holes, one of the toughest closing tests on the Web.com Tour.
Hurley bogeyed the par-3 16th to fall into a tie at 11 under. Affrunti then misread a par putt at No. 17 while Hurley saved par with his own 15-footer to go up by one.
Both players were then forced to lay up at the 432-yard 18th when their tee shots settled into a difficult rough. Affunti’s third shot wound up 12 feet past the pin while Hurley hit one of the best shots of the day after hacking a wedge back into the fairway.
“We were trying to find the yardage and my caddie said, ‘you could just pace it off,’ so I walked up there and got a good number (65 yards),” said Hurley. “If I’m not in the last group I probably don’t step it off because there’s somebody back there in the fairway. Being in the last group, we’ve got nowhere to go so we went ahead and got a good yardage.”
Hurley’s wedge was almost perfect.
“It was one of those shots that as soon as it left the face you knew it was really, really good,” said Hurley, who saw the ball stop a couple inches from the cup for par.
--This is the first time in Billy Hurley’s Web.com Tour career that he has held a 54-hole lead. His previous best 54-hole effort came at the 2011 Children’s Hospital Classic in Chattanooga, where he was in second place, two shots back of John Mallinger.
--None of the top six players on the leaderboard have won on the Web.com Tour.
--Several players at the top of the board stumbled on the par-4 18th hole Saturday:
Joe Affrunti – bogey
Alex Cejka – bogey|
Ben Martin – double bogey
Kevin Tway – bogey
Michael Putnam – bogey
Alex Aragon – bogey
James Nitties – bogey
Lee Janzen – double bogey
--Will Wilcox became the second player this week to make back-to-back eagles on Nos. 9 & 10. Kevin Kisner made eagles on those same par 5s during the opening round. Wilcox, winner of the South Georgia Classic, posted a 3-under 69 and is tied for 18th.
--Peter Malnati matched the second-best birdie-eagle streak on tour this year when he went 6 under over a five-hole stretch. Malnati eagled the par-5 ninth hole and then added four consecutive birdies to start the back nine. He finished with a 68 and is tied for 14th. Jason Gore has the best streak (7 under) this season at the BMW Charity Pro-Am.
--Billy Hurley has made the cut in seven of 13 starts this year and has three top-25 finishes. His best weeks are ties for 13th at the Panama Claro Championship and the Chitimacha Louisiana Open. He came into the week No. 66 on the money list.
--Joe Affrunti has made the cut in four of nine starts this year but does not have a top-25 finish. His best week was a tie for 27th at the Stadion Classic at UGA. He came into the week No. 151 on the money list.
--Ben Martin (tied for fifth) is in his second full season on tour. The former Clemson standout is up to No. 21 on the money list after posting five top-15 finishes in his past seven starts. Martin finished tied for fourth at last week’s Rex Hospital Open.