WEDDINGTON, N.C. -- Canada’s Brad Fritsch and Russell Henley of Macon, Ga., started Saturday’s third round tied for the lead at the Web.com Tour’s Chiquita Classic, and both players matched 7-under-par 65s to stay deadlocked after 54 holes. Both players have three-round totals of 20-under 196, just one stroke off the lowest first 54 holes on the Web.com Tour (Paul Haley II at the Chile Classic) this year.
Fritsch was treading water over his first seven holes Saturday with two birdies and two bogeys. However, he knew that if he stayed patient and kept the ball in play off the tee, he’d have good opportunities for birdies over the remainder of the round. A summa cum laude graduate of Campbell University in North Carolina who is from Ottawa, Fritsch didn’t have to wait long for the fireworks to happen, and eventually he birdied seven of his last 11 holes at The Club at Longview, including three straight beginning at No. 8.
On Sunday, Fritsch will attempt to become the 13th different Canadian to win on the Web.com Tour and could claim the 19th overall title on the Web.com Tour by a player from north of the border.
“When I holed an eight-foot putt at the eighth hole, things started to turn around,” Fritsch said. “There are so many par 4s on this course where you have wedges and 9-irons into the greens and they are so pure. I knew if I just stuck to the game plan and hit the putts on my line, I would be fine.
“It’s all about patience and not getting out of rhythm or thinking I’ve got to hit driver off this tee to try and make one up,” he explained. “You have to believe in yourself and believe that if you don’t make any birdies the first seven holes, you’re going to make a lot over the last 11 because this is the kind of golf course that you can do that on.”
Henley, a University of Georgia product who won the 2011 Stadion Classic as an amateur, kept pace with Fritsch thanks to another round with a hot putter. His bogey-free 65 included two birdies on the front nine (Nos. 2 and 4) and five more on the back side (Nos. 11, 12, 15, 16 and 17). Henley leads the field with 23 total birdies for the week, and over three rounds at The Club at Longview he’s needed just 77 total putts.
“I just feel pretty good about my putting right now. My speed and everything has been really consistent and I’ve felt really good on the greens,” Henley said. “I’m excited! I had a blast today. This is why you play, you play to be in contention on Sunday.”
Two former collegiate All-Americans, Patrick Cantlay (65) from UCLA and Morgan Hoffmann (66) from Oklahoma State, are tied for third, five strokes back of the co-leaders. Charlotte resident Fernando Mechefeffe of Brazil is alone in fifth place, six strokes off the lead after posting a 67 on Saturday.
Both Fritsch and Henley have excellent chances to move into the top 25 on the 2012 Web.com Tour money list after this week’s event. Fritsch, No. 27 on the money list, finished tied for second three weeks ago at the Mylan Classic. Henley is currently 35th in season earnings and finished tied for second in mid-August at the Midwest Classic.
“I don’t really care what I shoot, I just want to win,” Henley said. “It’s fun to go low, that’s something that I’ve gotten more and more comfortable with this year. You don’t play a lot of courses where you can go too low on in college. I just want to shoot whatever it takes to win. It’s a lot of fun and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
--A total of nine 54-hole leaders/co-leaders have gone on to win the first 22 events on the 2012 Web.com Tour. The last to do so was Darron Stiles in late August at the News Sentinel Open in Knoxville, Tenn. Both of the previous 54-hole leaders at the Chiquita Classic went on to claim victory.
--Brad Fritsch is a cumulative 13 under on the par 5s this week while co-leader Russell Henley is 7 under on the par 5s.
--Patrick Cantlay, making just his second career start on the Web.com Tour, shot a 65 to move up into a tie for third. He’s five strokes off the lead but will have a chance to become the 21st Monday Qualifier in the Web.com Tour’s 23-year history to win a tournament. Cantlay, the top collegiate golfer in the United States in 2011 while at UCLA, shot 69 at Rocky River Golf Club on Monday to earn a spot in this week’s Chiquita Classic.
--Former Oklahoma State All-American Morgan Hoffmann, who last week finished in sixth place at the WNB Golf Classic to earn temporary status on the Web.com Tour after the reshuffle, is again in contention for his first victory on the Web.com Tour. Hoffmann, the 36-hole leader last week in Midland, Texas, carded a 6-under 66 to move into a tie for third through three rounds of the Chiquita Classic. With the reshuffle not taking place until after the Micosoukee Championship, Hoffmann would earn a spot in next week’s Neediest Kids Championship with a top-25 finish.
--Scott Dunlap (66) is the only player with 11 consecutive sub-par rounds at the Chiquita Classic dating back to the inaugural event in 2010 near Cincinnati.
--Through three rounds, the 247-yard, par-3 third hole still has been the hardest (3.263), yielding just 30 total birdies for the week and only four on Saturday. The par-5 544-yard fourth hole has been the easiest (4.596), giving up nine eagles and 176 birdies over three rounds.
--Tim O’Neal was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard.