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Un-compact disc

After struggling with an aching back that has hampered him all year, Ben Crane felt great about his game and his score on Saturday. He carded five birdies and a long bogey while hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation.

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Ben Crane is excited that a series of extension exercises has reduced the pain in his back. (Getty Images)

By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM, Chief of Correspondents

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Ben Crane called it the best round he’s played in months.

Crane’s 66 in the third round of the PGA Championship matched his season’s low, shot four times previously, but given the difficulty of the Atlanta Athletic Club – and the aching back he’s been battling -- Saturday was particularly satisfying. He’ll start the final round 1 under as a result.

"Today I felt like my game was in really good shape," Crane said. "I played excellent all day, all the way through the round."

Crane injured his back after his second match at the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. The pain was so intense Crane could barely walk, and he made things worse when he tried to come back too early. The back flared up again prior to the British Open, and Crane played Royal St. George’s without the benefit of a practice round, missing the cut.

"It’s been rough, been a rough stretch, and just thankful that I’m playing good," Crane said.

The injury was diagnosed as an annular tear of a disc in his lower back. Crane recently has learned how to manage the situation with exercise, though, and he’s excited by the results he’s been seeing.

"If I just do extension exercises, the disc that’s between the vertebrae there, if I keep pressing it up into the back end with extension exercises like that, it really kind of keeps it at bay," Crane said. 

Crane made five birdies and just one bogey on Saturday as he broke par at the Atlanta Athletic Club for the first time all week. He hit 9 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation — while using 29 putts for the third straight day.

"There’s not a lot of room for error," said the three-time PGA TOUR champion. "The bunkers are so penal off the tee and around the green, just with the sand being so soft, and it just makes for an incredibly tough test. The greens are getting faster and faster, and it’s hot.  Did I mention that?

"I played great, though, putted really well and just took advantage of the opportunities when they presented themselves."

Crane was playing with David Toms, who won the 2001 PGA Championship here and shot 65 on Saturday. Crane got off to a great start and Toms joined in after the turn.

"It was cool, we were just feeding off each other, and it felt great," Crane said. "… I think this is the PGA Saturday where everyone says, hey, a lot of guys make a run. … And then tomorrow they’re going to stick us back there and make us hit woods and hybrids in there.  Yeah, definitely more accessible today, and we’ll just kind of see how the course holds up in the afternoon."