Nitties takes lead from Killeen after third round of Midwest Classic

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PGA.com news services

Series: Web.com Tour

Australia’s James Nitties fired a 6-under 65 Saturday to reach 20 under par at the Midwest Classic and take the 54-hole lead by one stroke over J.J. Killeen, who stumbled with bogeys on his last two holes at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate. Nitties’ 20-under score is the second-lowest on the Nationwide Tour this year and makes the 28-year-old from Melbourne the man to beat in Sunday’s chase.

Josh Geary (61) of New Zealand and Aussie Nick Flanagan (63) share third place, two shots back. Sweden’s Jonas Blixt (62) is four strokes behind, while South Carolina’s Mark Anderson (66) is five off the pace.

MIDWEST CLASSIC

The 7,251-yard, par-72 Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate was designed by Jack Nicklaus and opened in 2001.

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Lift, clean and place conditions were in effect for the second straight day after overnight thunderstorms dumped an additional 1.1 inches of rain on an already soaked golf course. Generous fairways turned wider and players fired at every pin. The scoring average for the par-71 layout was 67.859.

“You can’t sit back at 2 under or you’ll get run over by any number of guys,” said Nitties after seven players in the field of 78 posted scores better than his 65. “The course is wet and soft. Guys are just firing darts.”

Nitties started the day tied with Killeen at 14 under and got off to another quick start with five birdies in his first six holes.

“I was a little nervous to start with, but that first birdie will settle you a bit,” said Nitties, who holds a 54-hole lead for the first time in his career. “I hit some good ones early but I think I used all my good putts on the front nine.”

Nitties stalled out after the turn, closing with eight pars and one birdie.

“I try not to look at the boards,” he said. “You find out that everyone is making a lot of birdies and you wind up putting more pressure on yourself to make them just to keep up. You stick to your game plan and not worry about what other people are doing.”

Killeen, seeking his third win in four weeks, kept his playing partner Nitties in his sights and finally overtook him with three consecutive birdies starting at No. 11.

“There’s really no point to look at the boards because you know the scores are going to be and you have to try to keep making birdies and hitting good golf shots,” said Killeen. “It really doesn’t do you any good today.”

Killeen made a pair of mistakes coming down the stretch, including pulling his 9-iron at the par-4 18th. His chip came up four feet short and his par putt squirted right after catching a spike mark.

“They’re a little bumpy, I hit the putts where I wanted but they just bounced,” he said. “Obviously you don’t want to finish like that. I’m not going to let those two holes bother me. I’m still in a good position.”

While Nitties and Killeen were battling for the lead, Geary and Blixt were turning heads early with a barrage of red numbers that had many thinking both could be in line for 59s.

Blixt opened his day with six consecutive birdies and was 9 under through 13 holes but played the final five in even-par for his 62. Geary was one better, 9 under through 12 holes, but managed only one birdie in his final six holes for a round of 61.

Third-Round Notes:

--James Nitties’ 193 total matches the eighth-lowest, opening 54-hole score in Nationwide Tour history. The lowest is 190 (23 under) set by David Branshaw in the 2002 Gila River Golf Classic.

--Twenty players in the field of 78 posted bogey-free scores in the third round.

--Jonas Blixt opened his round with six consecutive birdies, one shy of the Tour’s all-time record for consecutive birdies to begin a round. Rocky Walcher began his third round at the 2000 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open with seven in a row. Blixt and Josh Geary each posted 7-under 29s on the front nine. Blixt had seven birdies and Geary had five birdies and an eagle.

--Blixt settled for a 9-under 62 after nine birdies in his first 13 holes. The former Florida State star finished par-par-bogey-birdie-par and stands at 16 under par through 54 holes. Blixt’s career-low score is a 9-under 61 at the 2009 Fort Smith Classic. His 197 score is his career low for 54 holes. His previous low was 198, which came at the 2009 Cox Classic in Omaha.

--Geary put his name in the records book by matching the second-lowest 36-hole score in Nationwide Tour history. Geary’s 125 total the past two days also ties him for the lowest 36-hole score on Tour this year.

--David Lingmerth reeled off six consecutive birdies today on Nos. 11-16 en route to a career-low 7-under 64. Lingmerth, a rookie from Sweden by way of the University of Arkansas, moved to 14-under 199. His previous best was a 66, which he shot three times this year. Lingmerth is No. 71 on the money list. 

--Mark Anderson shot his third straight 66 thanks to his short game and putting. Anderson hit only 7 of 14 fairways and 8 of 18 greens but had 15 one-putts (21 putts overall).