COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ben Kohles still hasn’t finished his first week as a professional golfer, but the 22-year-old All-American from Virginia has shown all the calm of a seasoned veteran at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. Kohles fired a 4-under 67 on Saturday to erase a four-shot deficit and move into first place heading into the final round of the Web.com Tour’s second-richest tournament.
Kohles, who tied for 18th at the Porter Cup in New York last week and turned pro five days ago when he registered for this event, stands 11 under par after three trips around the famed Scarlet Course at Ohio State University and two strokes in front of a jumbled leaderboard.
Aaron Watkins (65), Cliff Kresge (64) and Trevor Murphy (73), the leader after each of the first two weather-plagued rounds, share second place at 9-under 204.
Joseph Bramlett (70), Camilo Benedetti (69) and the Tour’s only two-time winner this year, Casey Wittenberg (70) are tied for fifth and just three back of Kohles, who was twice named the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year.
Five more players, including Mexico Open winner Lee Williams (66) are lurking only four off the pace, setting up a possible shootout for Sunday’s top prize of $144,000.
“One of the things I wanted to do was to finish in the top 25, because I don’t really have any plans after this and I wanted to play next week,” said Kohles, who will get a berth in next week’s Cox Classic in Omaha, Neb., if he does finish in the top 25. “Obviously I’m playing a lot better and now I’m going to go out there and try to win it.”
Kohles, one of a dozen college All-Americans invited to the event, owns the 54-hole lead because he’s simply doing everything better than anyone else. A seven-time winner for the Cavaliers in college, Kohles is tied for second in fairways hit, tied for fourth in greens in regulation and tied for seventh in putting.
“I’ve been hitting my driver really well and once you’re in the fairway it’s a lot easier than playing from the trees,” he said.
Murphy, who needed to finish up seven holes in the morning to complete his weather-delayed second round, let a four-shot lead slip away with short-game mistakes.
“I drove it better today than I did when I shot 63 (first round). My chipping was probably the worst part of the round today and I didn’t putt as well,” he said. “If you aren’t putting well out here, you don’t have a chance. Somebody’s going to be putting well and hitting it well.”
That somebody is Kohles, who will try to become the 13th player in Tour history to win in his very first start. The last to do it was Miguel Carballo at the 2007 Movistar Panama Championship.
--Cliff Kresge’s 7-under 64 was his lowest of the year. Kresge had made only four cuts in 14 starts prior to this week. His only top-25 finish this year was a tie for 16th at the Stadion Classic. He began the week No. 126 on the money list. Kresge is a three-time winner on Tour -- 2002 Virginia Beach Open, 2002 Hershey Open, 2006 Oregon Classic. He played on the PGA Tour in 2001, 2003-04 and 2007-10.
--Kresge’s 64 was the best round of the day. Aaron Watkins’ 65 was the second-best score on Saturday.
--Luke Guthrie turned professional earlier this year after the NCAA Championship. Guthrie won three times during the year and was a second-team All-American at Illinois, where he was also a two-time winner of the Big 10 Championship. Guthrie won the 2011 Robert Kepler Intercollegiate tournament on the Scarlet Course here at OSU. Since turning pro, Guthrie has made three PGA Tour starts – tie for 19th at the FedEx St. Jude Classic, tie for fifth at the John Deere Classic and tie for 18th at the True South Classic – and earned $284,672 in the process.
--Texan Jordan Speith finished double bogey/bogey to wind up with a 1-under 70 and a 5-under 208 total. Speith is one of two amateurs to make the cut and will try to add to the legacy of having at least one amateur finish in the top-10 in this event each year:
--Since the tournament began, 18 of 47 collegians/former collegians have made the 36-hole cut in this event (39%). There have been eight top-10 finishes in the first five years, with at least one top-10 finish each year. Daniel Summerhays (2007) and Harris English (2011) won the tournament while they were still amateurs. Rickie Fowler lost a playoff in 2009 to Derek Lamely while still an amateur and John Peterson was an amateur when he tied for second last year.