Sweden’s Jonas Blixt fired a bogey-free, 5-under-par 66 Saturday to take the 54-hole lead in the Nationwide Tour’s Soboba Golf Classic.
Blixt chipped in for birdie at the difficult 16th hole and then rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt the closing 18th to match the lowest round of the day. His 11-under 202 total is two strokes better than Matt Every (67), Cameron Percy (68) and a pair of lefties, Ted Potter (66) and New Zealand’s Tim Wilkinson (70).
The 500-yard, par-4 16th had a scoring average of 4.563 in round three and yielded only one birdie to the field of 64 players.
“It was an easy chip up the hill with a little break to it to the left,” said Blixt, who took the flag out for his chip from about 50 feet. “You always have a chance of making it, but that was kind of a bonus there.”
San Diego native J.J. Killeen, the Tour’s leading money winner, also carded a 66 and heads a list of five players three off the pace. Killeen is joined at 8 under by Australian Jarrod Lyle (68), James Sacheck (68), Luke List (69) and second-round co-leader Miguel Carballo (72). Another eight players are deadlocked at 7 under and only four back heading into Sunday’s finale.
“It was a smart round,” said Blixt, a 2008 graduate of Florida State. “I felt like I was in control of my game and my emotions today. Every time I missed, I missed on the right side. Even if you are in the fairway, it’s tough to hit the greens out here.”
When Blixt did miss a green, he did what he does best -- make putts. He is No. 2 on tour in both putting average and putts per round.
“These are probably the hardest greens I’ve played on all year,” he said after needing only 23 putts. “You have to pay attention and make sure you’re in the right spots.”
The third-year pro is in a perfect spot. His tie for second at last week’s Albertsons Boise Open moved him up to No. 10 on the money list and all but assured him a berth on the PGA Tour next year.
A win this week, with a larger-than-average purse ($750,000) and first-place check ($135,000), could put him as high as No. 3 with only a handful of tournaments left on the schedule.
The 27-year-old held the first- and second-round leads last week in Boise but stumbled in Round 3 with a 74 that could have derailed his chances. He recovered nicely on Sunday with a 67 for his third top-3 finish in his last five starts.
“You’re mind does a lot of weird things to you,” he said. “I woke up with a headache last Saturday because I was so mentally focused on the task ahead. It got me totally out of rhythm. I’m going to do my normal routine and try to calm down and hopefully do the same thing tomorrow.”
Saturday’s third round turned out to be a battle as tricky winds and hard, fast greens claimed many of the 36-hole leaders.
“A lot of the guys who went out early were probably able to back-door it a little bit today,” said Every. “There wasn’t much wind to start. It picked up when we teed off and then the greens got really firm and crus-teeee.”
Still, the former Florida Gator managed five birdies opposite one bogey for a solid 67.
“It was one of my better rounds of the year. I drove it good, didn’t make mistakes and made the putts I was supposed to make,” he said. “Unless you putt like Jonas Blixt, 4 under is a pretty good score out here.”
Every finished 45 minutes ahead of Blixt and had no idea what was going on behind him. He knows what lies ahead, though.
“Today doesn’t matter,” he said. “Heck, it doesn’t matter tomorrow until the last few holes. There’s a stretch on the back nine that people can fall apart on. If you get through those, 13 to 16, you’re probably going to be okay.”
--Jonas Blixt leads the field with the fewest above-par holes. Blixt has only three bogeys on his scorecard through 54 holes.
--Ted Potter leads the field with three eagles. Martin Flores leads the field with 18 birdies.
--Potter has an interesting pattern developing. In his last six starts, the lefty from Florida has gone T6-MC-T3-MC-T3-MC. Potter’s 66 Saturday put him good position to continue the pattern on Sunday.
--Camilo Benedetti turned the front nine in 6-under 30 and was 8 under when he made the turn. Benedetti wasn’t as fortunate on the back nine with a 3-over 38. His 3-under 68 put him at minus-5.
--San Diego area native Aaron Goldberg eagled the final hole for a 2-under 69. The former SDSU Aztec is at 7-under and tied for 11th.
--Second-round co-leader Peter Lonard closed with back-to-back birdies for a 2-over 73. Lonard hit 11 fairways and 11 greens but required 32 strokes on the greens. He is also at 7 under.
--Andrew Buckle celebrated his 29th birthday on Saturday. John Mallinger (32) and David Branshaw (42) will celebrate birthdays on Sunday.