POTOMAC, Md. -- Monday qualifier Josh Persons held steady and fired a 1-under 69 on a difficult Saturday at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm to move into first place after three rounds of the Web.com Tour’s Neediest Kids Championship outside of Washington, D.C.
Persons’ 8-under total is one better than Tom Hoge (69), whom he has known since their junior days growing up in Fargo, N.D.
Two-time winner Casey Wittenberg (68) is two off the pace heading into Sunday, when the forecast calls for an 80 percent chance of rain, lots of wind and a high temperature peaking near 50 degrees.
Chris Wilson (67), winner of the Price Cutter Charity Championship earlier this summer, is 5 under along with Phillip Pettitt (68), Will Wilcox (69) and Australian Alistair Presnell (70).
“It’s a lot like spring in Fargo, except we’re playing a lot tougher golf course,” said Persons, who is making only his second career start on Tour. “It was brutal today. This course is tough enough as it is.”
Persons started the third round one back of 36-hole leader David Lingmerth (74/tied for eighth) and quickly moved to the front with three straight birdies starting at No. 2.
“I hit three shots pretty close to the hole,” he said. “After that, the conditions changed completely. The wind was in the opposite direction. I kind of lost it mid-round but was able to hang tough and make a few crucial 5- to 10-footers when I needed to.”
Persons failed to tack any more birdies on his scorecard after a 5-footer at the third, but he didn’t need any. Northwest winds picked up and gusted past 25 miles an hour, putting the field in survival mode.
“It was a battle,” said Hoge, who managed to hit only seven fairways but still managed one of only 11 subpar scores. “Tough day on a tough golf course. It can be perfectly calm and 80 degrees and it’s still going to be tough around this course.”
Hoge kept the ball in front of him for most of the day and after playing the first 13 holes in even par, the TCU Horned Frog decided the conservative approach on the 290-yard 14th hole wasn’t going to cut it.
“I had a good visual on that one, just a low cut with a driver,” he said. “I was feeling really good about it and luckily stepped up and executed the shot, something I haven’t been doing lately.”
Hoge’s gamble paid off when the tee shot hit softly at the front of the green and came to rest 10 feet from the cup. The ensuing eagle putt got the 23-year-old back into contention.
“I laid up there the first two days and probably should have done the same thing,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is just to have the confidence to know I can hit a shot where you don’t have much margin for error.”
Hoge’s deficit remained at one when both he and Persons, one group behind, both made bogey at the par-4 15th. Each would make three tough pars down the stretch, leaving the two paired together for Sunday’s finale.
“When we played high school golf in April or May, we had a lot of days when it was 40 degrees and 30 mile an hour wind but not as difficult a golf course as this,” said Persons. “We’re both comfortable playing in this.”
Joining them will be Wittenberg, who had three birdies and one bogey Saturday.
“You knew going in it wasn’t going to be pretty. You knew everybody was going to struggle to some extent so you just had to hang in there,” he said. “You just hang in and hope the wind didn’t hit your ball at the wrong time. It was hard to get the ball close today.”
Lift, clean and place conditions were in effect only for the 11th hole in Round 3. Lift, clean and place conditions were in effect for the first round and second round.
--In anticipation of forecasted storms, fourth-round play will be in threesomes off the first and 10th tees. Times will run from 7:49-9:50 a.m.
--Josh Persons is making only his second career start on Tour. His previous start came at the 2010 Soboba Golf Classic, where he was a Monday qualifier. He shot scores of 71-73-144 (+2) and missed the cut.
--Will Wilcox entered this week No. 83 on the money list after making the cut in only nine of 20 starts. His only top-10 finish was a tie for sixth at the Rex Hospital Open in Raleigh, N.C.
--Persons will attempt to become the 21st Monday qualifier to win in the Tour’s 23-year history. The last person to do so was Ted Potter Jr. at the 2011 South Georgia Classic.
--Persons and Tom Hoge are both from Fargo, N.D., and grew up playing against and with each other. Persons (28) attended Fargo North High School (Spartans), while Hoge (23) graduated from Fargo South High School (Bruins).
--Another Fargo connection this week is TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm Head Professional Jay Duffy, who is also from Fargo. He has has been at Avenel since 2001.
--Phillip Pettitt Jr. (tied for fourth) has never been better than tied for 10th after 54 holes in his Web.com Tour career. Pettitt tied for 10th at this year’s Mexico Open, where he fired a 4-under 68 in the final round for his career-best finish. Pettitt entered the week No. 51 on the money list.
--Only 11 players in the field of 67 managed to better par on Saturday.
--This week’s Neediest Kids Championship is the 24th event of 27 on the 2012 Web.com Tour schedule.
--The Web.com Tour will head to south Florida next week for the Miccosukee Champoionship near Miami. The tournament will be played at Miccosukee Golf & Country Club Oct. 8-14. Last year, Jason Kokrak pulled away from the field on the final day to win by a tournament-record seven strokes, collecting his second win in five weeks. Kokrak started the final round with a three-stroke lead and was never seriously threatened en route to a 20-under 264 total, which also set a tournament record.