KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Aron Price is aware of his precarious position this week at the News Sentinel Open. Simply put, he needs to move up on the Web.com Tour money list. With a third-round, 7-under 64 at Fox Den Country Club on Saturday, he’s put himself in position for a big payday and potentially his first tour victory since 2008. He leads Blayne Barber and Kevin Kisner by a stroke.
At No. 78 on the earnings chart, Price is guaranteed only one more start this season, at next week’s Cox Classic in Omaha, Neb. The top 75 on the money chart following the Cox Classic will play in the Web.com Tour Finals, a group of four tournaments that will also include 75 PGA Tour players who didn’t qualify for the FedExCup Playoffs. Price hopes to be counted among those 150 players.
“I haven’t been in contention too many times the last couple of years,” said Price, who won the 2008 Livermore Wine Valley Championship in a playoff and whose best 2013 finish is a tie for seventh at the Air Capital Classic. In Wichita, he was never much of a threat, though, after opening with a 74.
“Next year can ride on how I play any certain week or any certain round, so it is important. But I’m trying to downplay it a little bit,” Price added. “I’ve been playing good and that helps. I’m not going to lie. I’m playing well, so it’s a lot easier to keep a positive frame of mind and not worry about a bad shot or two.”
His bogey-free round Saturday included three consecutive birdies on Nos. 10-12 and a birdie on the par-5 18th.
Barber, the 36-hole co-leader, stumbled with bogeys on Nos. 9 and 10 but recovered with two birdies to finish his round. He just missed an eight-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that would have given him a share of the lead.
“I looked at the board on 16, and I knew if I finished birdie-birdie, I could get in that final group. That was big,” said Barber after he made consecutive birdies to end his 3-under 68 round. He will tee off in the final grouping, with Price and Kisner, Sunday morning off No. 1. Officials are anticipating bad weather in the area and will send players off in threesomes using a two-tee start.
“I’m just here to play golf. I’ll get my tee time and show up on the first tee,” Barber said of the final-round schedule. “There’s no telling what the scores are going to be, what other guys are going to shoot, so all I can is go out there and hit every shot to the best of my ability and try to shoot one less than the next guy.”
Kisner, a two-time Web.com Tour winner who won earlier this season at the Chile Classic in South America, hit 17 greens Saturday. As for the one green he missed? He landed his ball on the fringe on his way to a 66 and a 12-under total. He, too, birdied his final hole of the afternoon.
“I played really solid all day. I saw 13 (under) was in and posted, so I knew I needed to get within striking distance. I thought I hit a perfect drive on 18, but I ended up having to hit a 20-yard cut around the trees,” added Kisner about his second-shot approach. He got up and down from the fringe for birdie on the par-5 finishing hole. “It all worked out, and I’m glad to have a shot tomorrow. I’ve won before, so I know how to do it. If it’s your time, you have to seize the opportunity.”
Miguel Angel Carballo and Matt Bettencourt are tied for fourth, two shots behind Price. In total, there are 18 players within five shots of Price’s lead.
--Because of anticipated bad weather Sunday, officials have selected a two-tee start for the final round, with players teeing off between 8:30 a.m. and 10:20 a.m. EDT.
--Special Temporary Member Peter Malnati overcame a double bogey-6 on the par-4 12th hole to finish with three birdies over his final six holes to shoot a 5-under 66. He’s tied for sixth. The Dandridge, Tenn., native who played college golf at the University of Missouri, makes his home in Knoxville. His home course is Holston Hills Country Club, site of the 1945 and 1946 Knoxville Opens that were part of the PGA Tour schedule in those years. Byron Nelson won the 1945 event. Harold “Jug” McSpaden won in 1946.
--Blayne Barber is tied for second with 18 holes to play after he open-qualified earlier this week to get into the field. The last open-qualifier to go on to win a Web.com Tour event was Ted Potter Jr., who captured the 2011 South Georgia Classic. Dominic Bozzelli and Kyle Morris, two other Monday qualifiers, are both tied for 15th, five shots behind leader Aron Price.
--Through two rounds, the only hole that gave up eagles was at the par-5 10th. That changed in the third round as the ninth and 14th holes – both par 4s – yielded eagles. Roland Thatcher (No. 9) and Reid Edstrom (No. 14) had hole-out eagles from the fairway. Through 54 holes, Edstrom is tied for 20th and Thatcher is tied for 24th. The other eagles this week have come from Adam Hadwin, Matt Harmon and Matias O’Curry.
--First-round co-leader and current Web.com Tour money-list leader Michael Putnam opened 65-74. He recovered with a 3-under 68 and is tied for 24th, seven shots behind.
--The only past News Sentinel Open champion to make the cut of the four who played this week is Heath Slocum, who captured the title in 2001. He started the weekend tied for 44th, shot a 1-under 70 Saturday and remains tied for 44th. Hunter Haas (the 2004 and 2006 champion), Vaughn Taylor (2003) and Kevin Johnson (2009) all missed the cut.
--Matt Bettencourt double-bogeyed his final hole of the first round, No. 9. Since then, he has reeled off 36 consecutive holes of bogey-free golf, making nine birdies during the streak. The 2008 Web.com Tour money-list leader ($447,863) is tied for fourth (11 under) with a round to play. His best Web.com Tour finish this season is a tie for sixth at the Albertsons Boise Open. He’s also played nine 2013 PGA Tour events, with his tie for 24th at the Puerto Rico Open his best performance.
--Reid Edstrom (first and third) and Matt Bettencourt (second and third) are the only two players to have two bogey-free rounds this week. Corey Nagy (tied for sixth) has recorded 19 birdies to lead the field in that category.