Big-hitting Jason Kokrak and India’s Rahil Gangjee share the 54-hole lead at the 22nd renewal of the Nationwide Tour’s Albertsons Boise Open. The two rookies are tied at 14-under 199 after three trips around the Hillcrest Country Club and are one shot in front of five players.
Kokrak flew out of the gate early with six consecutive birdies en route to an 8-under 63, the best round of the day, and grabbed the clubhouse lead. Gangjee was 9 under for the afternoon, but double bogeyed the final hole to fall out of sole possession of the lead. Gangjee’s big day included a pair of eagles on par 4s. His 64 was the second-best score turned in on Saturday.
Luke List (67), Canada’s David Hearn (67), Martin Flores (67), Billy Horschel (68) and Boise State grad Troy Merritt (69) share third place, one stroke back. Merritt was tied at 14 under, but three-putted the final green to lose his share of the lead.
John Mallinger (65), Craig Bowden (65), John Riegger (67) and former champion Chris Tidland (71) are only two off the pace. Second-round leader Jonas Blixt stumbled midway in the round with four straight bogeys and had to settle for a 3-over 74, but remains in the hunt at minus-11, along with leading money winner J.J. Killeen (65) and six others.
“Those guys who went out early and shot 4 under are right back in it,” said Tidland, the victor here in 2008. “If Jonas or I shoot 5 or 6 under, we would have run away from the field, but we didn’t. It was just a long day. If you don’t hit it in the fairways out here, it’s a battle.”
It was anything but a battle for Kokrak, a 26-year-old Canadian rookie, who made it look easy with six red circles to start.
“It’s in your head. I think it’s just being aware of where you are on the golf course and not try to get too high or too low,” he said. “If you’re making bogeys, don’t worry about it, and if you’re making birdies, don’t worry about it. Just take it shot after shot and take it for what it’s worth.”
Sunday’s showdown will be worth $130,500 and go a long way toward a spot on the PGA Tour next year. The 25 leading money winners at the end of the year earn PGA Tour cards for 2012.
“It’s going to be fun on Sunday,” said Kokrak, who is No. 70 on the money list. “I think it’s going to be a shootout.”
The leaderboard is a little tighter because of Gangjee’s three-putt hiccup at the par-4 18th. After knocking his second shot into the greenside rough, his chip came out quickly and blew 20 feet past the cup.
“The lie wasn’t bad, I just caught too much club,” said Gangjee, who is No. 102 on the money list and still looking for his first top-10 finish this year. “You could hear it clunk. The putt going up was way quicker than I thought.”
Gangjee then missed a five-footer for bogey coming back and lost his two-stroke advantage in a blink.
“I was having fun out there,” said the 33-year-old rookie. “It was just happening so automatically, which is how it was my previous year (on the Asian Tour).”
Gangjee vaulted up the board on the back nine Saturday with a trio of 2s on the scorecard, two of them on short par 4s. The first came at the 359-yard, downhill 10th.
“I hit driver so far right I thought it was o-b and had to hit a provisional,” he said. “It was six inches in bounds. Then I have to hit this shot which kind of goes through the first tree, over the other tree, over the bunker, lands on soft and then rolls up. Guess what?”
Um, it went in?
“I couldn’t do it again,” he said of his chances to repeat it.
He did his best, though, on the 293-yard 15th hole.
Gangjee, who put his name in the record books two weeks ago with a ace on a 316-yard par 4 during the final round of the Mylan Classic near Pittsburgh, smacked a 3-wood onto the green and rolled in a 15-footer for another eagle-2.
--Jason Kokrak started Round 3 with six consecutive birdies. The Nationwide Tour record for most birdies to begin a round is seven by Rocky Walcher in the third round of the 2000 Wichita Open. Kokrak is No. 2 in average driving distance this week at 343.7 yards.
--Second-round leader Jonas Blixt struggled during his third round, hitting only six of 14 fairways and seven of 18 greens in regulation. Blixt was saved by his work on the greens, one of his strengths. The third-year pro out of Florida State had nine one-putt greens and 28 overall. He continues to lead the field in putts per round with an average of 25.00. Blixt’s 74 was only his second over-par score in his past 23 rounds.
--Billy Hurley’s round of even-par 71 extends his streak of 23 consecutive rounds at par-or-better. Actually, it was Hurley’s first round at par in that stretch. His previous 22 rounds were all below par. Hurley is tied for 12th going into Sunday, and is No. 19 on the money list.
--Paul Claxton leads the field in driving accuracy (24 of 28/85.71%) and is tied for first in greens in regulation (45 of 54/83.33%). He has posted scores of 67-67-68 and is tied for 12th at 11 under par. Claxton had 31 putts in Round 1, 33 putts in Round 2 and 28 putts in Round 3 (92 total). Claxton is tied for 68th in putts per round.