There wasn't a whole lot of going low in the Low Country Saturday in Round 3 of the Nationwide Tour Championship. But for Jason Kokrak, his 3-over 75 was low enough to reach the highest point on the leaderboard headed into Sunday's final round of the season, after which time the top 25 money winners earn their ticket to the 2012 PGA Tour.
With a testy save for par on the 54th hole, Kokrak got to 7 under through three rounds and leads the field by one stroke on a day when strong winds got the best of most of the players in the 60-man field.
NATIONWIDE TOUR CHAMPIONSHIP
The top 25 players on the money list on Sunday night will earn their PGA Tour cards for 2012.
"It was a tough round with that wind," Kokrak said. "I think the only other time I had a tougher day was when I played over in Ireland, when I was 14. If it was constant here, it wouldn't have been that difficult, but it just kept switching directions."
Kokrak, of Warren, Ohio, has previously held a share of the 54-hole lead twice this year, and he went on to win both times. He first won the Albertsons Boise Open, and two weeks ago won the Miccosukee Championship.
Kokrak has good reason to feel good about his position heading into Sunday's final round, as the 54-hole leader of the Nationwide Tour Championship has held on for the win 15 of the previous 17 times.
Kokrak began the week at Daniel Island Club ranked fourth on the Nationwide Tour money list. In his lone start on the PGA Tour in 2011, he missed the cut at the Transitions Championship.
The low round of the blustery day belonged to Augusta, Ga., native Scott Brown. He followed a birdie at the first hole of the day with four others throughout the round for a bogey-free, 5-under 67. Along with Ken Duke, he trails Kokrak by just a stroke.
"With this wind, the course is playing really tough today," said Brown, who began the week 21st on the money list. "The back nine was especially tough," he added. "I hit a 7-iron from 128 yards on 17, so any birdies on the back nine are really good birdies today."
Ken Duke managed one of the few sub-par rounds on Saturday with a 2-under 70. Through three rounds, the former PGA Tour player is at 6 under.
"This was a really fun day. My caddie and I agreed to stay patient and it paid off," Duke said. "I have to admit, it has been hard for me to be patient, but for the last two to three weeks, it has really been fun. It's been the way it's supposed to be."
After 54 holes, Duke is the only player projected to move from outside of the top 25 to within.
The wind was really swirling on the back nine today. It was tough," said Camilo Benedetti, who bogeyed the par-5 18th to finish with a 2-over 74. Benedetti is 5 under and tied for fourth through three rounds.
Benedetti, who began the week ranked 49th on the money list, is left with just one round to climb into the top 25.
"I won't lie, I'm not going to stop thinking about that," he said. "I do feel the pressure, and with one round to go, I can only go out there, do my best and hope that it's good enough."
After his 10-under 62 on Friday, two-time PGA Tour winner Daniel Chopra fell victim to the wind on Saturday, posting a 5-over 77, good for a 5-under total. He starts Sunday tied for fourth.
-- The third-round scoring average was 74.608, a full 2.608 strokes above par, making it the second-toughest single round on Tour this year. The opening round at last week's Winn-Dixie Jacksonville Open was 73.566 (+3.566) the most difficult single day in 2011.
--This is the third time that Jason Kokrak has held/shared the 54-hole lead this year. Kokrak was tied for the third-round lead with Rahil Gangjee at the Albertsons Boise Open and went on to win by two strokes for his first career win. Two weeks ago at the Miccosukee Championship in Miami, Kokrak held a three-shot lead after three days and went on to win by seven strokes. In addition to the two wins, Kokrak's other top-10 finishes this season include a tied for fourth at the Midwest Classic and a tie for ninth at the Utah Classic, respectively.
--Scott Brown’s previous best standing after 54 holes was fourth at the 2011 Preferred Wichita Open. He would go on to tie for third. His previous best finish on the Nationwide Tour was a tie for second at the 2011 Rex Hospital Open.
--Ken Duke, who has played full-time on both, the Nationwide Tour and PGA Tour, is in good position to earn his card for the 2012 PGA Tour season. He began the week 36th on the money list, needing to get inside the top 25. After 54 holes, Duke is the only player projected to move from outside of the top-125 to within. He’s making his 24th start of the season this week, with his best previous finish being a tie for second at the Cox Clsassic.
--Garth Mulroy posted one of the few sub-par rounds of the day with a 1-under 71. At 5 under, he sits at tie for fourth with Matt Every, Camilo Benedetti and Daniel Chopra, They are two strokes off the lead. Mulroy, who won in a playoff earlier this season over Sunghoon Kang at the BMW Charity Pro-Am, began the week ranked 18th on the money list.
--Camilo Benedetti posted a 2-over 74, culminating with a bogey at the last and is tied for fourth. Benedetti has previously begun the final round of a Nationwide Tour event twice tied for second, but never led. At the 2009 Panama Claro Championship, he tied for 13th, and at the 2010 Soboba Classic, he tied for fifth. Benedetti is making his 23rd start of the Nationwide Tour season this week. His lone previous top-10 finish was a tie for third at the Albertsons Boise Open.
--With the top 25 players moving on to the PGA Tour next year, the “bubble boys” only have one more round to secure their spots for next season. After three rounds, No. 20 Martin Flores has shot 72-73-73 (+2) and is tied for 31st place; No. 21 Scott Brown has shot 75-68-67 (-6) and is tied for second; No. 22 Roberto Castro has shot 68-68-77 (-3) and is tied for 10th; No. 23 James Nitties has shot 73-71-76 (+4) and is tied for 44th; No. 24 Daniel Chopra has shot 72-62-77 (-5) and is tied for fourth; and No. 25 Billy Hurley III has shot 72-71-72 (-1) and is tied for 19th.
No. 26 Brett Wetterich has shot 71-69-81 (+5) and is tied for 46th; No. 27 Josh Broadaway has shot 72-70-77 (+3) and is tied for 37th; No. 28 Tommy Biershenk has shot 71-72-80 (+7) and is tied for 54th; No. 29 Marco Dawson has shot 75-67-74 (E) and is tied for 23rd; and No. 30 Darron Stiles has shot 68-70-77 (-1) and is tied for 19th place.