Texan J.J. Killeen fired an 8-under par 63 Saturday at the Cox Classic in Omaha and moved closer to winning for the second week in a row. Killeen, who earned his first career Nationwide Tour title at last week’s Utah Championship, is at 20-under 193 and four strokes in front of four players.
Former U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee (66), Monday qualifier Mike Lavery (67), Scotland’s Russell Knox (68) and veteran Ken Duke (68) share second place at 16 under heading into Sunday’s finale at Champions Run.
England’s Gary Christian (64) and Troy Kelly (62) are tied for sixth place, five back of the leader.
Lee birdied the 440-yard 18th hole to close out a bogey-free round and get to 16 under, but with a dozen players still on the course it appeared he’d wind up in fourth or fifth place. Lavery, Knox and Duke all wound up making bogeys at No. 18 to fall into a second-place tie and give Killeen some extra breathing room. The miscue by Lavery was his only bogey of the day.
“Anybody can shoot a low score out here. Anything can happen,” said Killeen, taking nothing for granted. “There are scorecards here with guys shooting 59s. I’m still going to put the petal to the medal tomorrow.”
Killeen, No. 5 on the money list, set a torrid pace early with seven birdies in his first 11 holes.
“I’m not going to say I left a few out there but I think I could have birdied every hole on the front nine,” he said. “I hit it pretty close all day long.”
Killeen hit 16 greens despite missing half the fairways, but stayed out of trouble for the most part and is in solid position to become the first player to win in back-to-back weeks since Jason Gore did it six years ago.
“He’s playing great and he will be pretty hard to beat,” said Knox, who is looking for his second win in four weeks. “He won’t be afraid to go deep tomorrow. It’s probably going to be reasonably difficult to catch him and we probably need him not to play too well.”
Knox three-putted the final green, which is one of the rare mistakes the 25-year-old Jacksonville, Fla., transplant has made. He has missed only six fairways in 54 holes and only three greens in regulation.
--J.J. Killeen has been on a blistering pace since missing the cut at the BMW Charity Pro-Am in May. Since then, he has made eight straight cuts and three top-5 finishes. In that stretch he also has a stroke average of 68.225 for his last 31 rounds, 27 of which have been below par. He has posted 15 consecutive rounds under par and his scoring average for that stretch is 67.133.
--Killeen’s 193 total is one off the tournament record for the lowest 54-hole score. Chris Smith (1997) and David Branshaw (2008) both registered 21-under 192 scores. Smith went on to win the tournament and Branshaw lost a playoff to Ryan Hietala. Killeen’s four-stroke lead is the second-largest in tournament history. Chris Smith held a five-shot advantage in 1997 and went to win by a then-Tour record 11 strokes.
--Killeen’s 193 score is the second-lowest 54-hole total on the Nationwide Tour this year. Steve Wheatcroft posted a 191 total (22 under) during the first three rounds of the Melwood Prince George’s County Open, which he went on to win by a Tour-record 12 strokes. Killeen is trying to become the 11th player in Tour history to register wins in back-to-back starts. The last to do it was Nick Flanagan, who won the 2007 Henrico County Open and the BMW Charity Pro-Am. Killeen is also trying to become the sixth player in Tour history to register wins in consecutive weeks. The last to do it was Jason Gore at the 2005 National Mining Association Pete Dye Classic and the Scholarship America Showdown.
--Gary Christian added a 7-under 64 to the 9-under 62 he posted Friday. His 126 total is a career low for consecuvite rounds. His previous career-best 36-hole score was 127 (63-64/13 under par) in rounds 3-4 at the 2009 Northeast Pennsylvania Classic, which he won when he defeated Mathias Gronberg in a playoff that lasted nine holes. Christian stands at 15-under 198 and is tied for sixth heading into the final round.
--Christian’s 126 total (62-64) in rounds 2-3 matches the second-lowest on Tour this year. Steve Wheatcroft had a 125 total (60-65) in the second and third rounds of the Melwood Prince George’s County Open. Christian will celebrate his 40th birthday on Sunday.
--There were five eagles at the short, par-4 ninth hole. The hole played to its approximate yardage of 315 yards. Gary Christian’s drive stopped about two feet from the hole and he made his putt. Matt Weibring also hit driver and had an eagle putt of just 18 inches. Others to make eagle: Martin Flores, Nicholas Thompson and Brendon Todd.
--Danny Lee is a perfect 9-for-9 in cuts made this year. The former U.S. Amateur champion is No. 19 on the money list thanks for four top-10 finishes, including a tie for ninth at last week’s Utah Championship. Lee has only one bogey this week, which came on his third hole on Thursday – giving him a current bogey-free streak of 51 holes.
--Andrew Buckle shot a 4-over 75 but had wildly contrasting nines. Starting on the back, Buckle went out in 8-over 44, including a quadruple-bogey 8 at No. 14. He rebounded with a 4-under 31 on the front side to finish the round.
--Martin Flores had two eagles. The first came at the par-5 17th and the second came at the par-4 ninth. He shot a 65 and at 13 under par through 54 holes.
--Troy Kelly, a two-time runner-up this year and No. 4 on the money list, matched the low round of the week with a 9-under 62. Kelly had 10 birdies on the day and moved up from a tie for 53rd to a tie for sixth.