Rookie Affrunti keeps his lead after third round of Chattanooga Classic

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PGA.com

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Joe Affrunti fired a 4-under 68 Saturday and maintained his lead after 54 holes of the Nationwide Tour’s Chattanooga Classic. Affrunti missed a 6-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th, but still tapped in for birdie to give himself a lead over veteran David Branshaw. Affrunti, who led by two after the second day, stands at 18 under after three trips around the Black Creek Club, one better than Branshaw, who fired a 7-under 65.

Rob Oppenheim matched the day’s best score with an 8-under 64 and holds down third place at 14 under, four back. Scott Gardiner (68) and Ryan Armour (70) are next at 13 under and will assume the chase position for Sunday’s finale.

“I’d rather be leading than coming from behind,” Affrunti joked after his day. “You don’t have any shots to make up, it’s a no-brainer. Everyone else in the field would rather be leading. If I shoot par and they all shoot par, I win. I shoot 6 under and they shoot 5 under, I win.”

Affrunti, a 29-year-old rookie, is in search of his first career win. He started the week No. 43 on the money list and a victory would propel him to No. 17 with only two full-field events to go before the season-ending Nationwide Tour Championship.

“Anybody can go low. Ten under is definitely out there,” he said. “Anybody that gets something going and plays the par 5s well can easily get to it.”

The University of Illinois graduate held the lead by hitting plenty of fairways (10 of 14), and plenty of greens (15 of 18) but required 30 putts to complete the day.

“I didn’t hit it close enough to give myself real opportunities,” he said. “All in all, it was a decent day. I played solid I just didn’t really make anything. I had a few more extra feet on each putt and didn’t make them.”

Branshaw, a two-time winner on Tour, started the day four back but closed the gap by giving himself four birdie putts inside of three feet and canning three birdies from the 15-foot range.

“That’s what I didn’t do the last couple of days,” said Branshaw, referring to the longer birdies. “Overall it was solid, for the most part.”

Branshaw caught a break on the 532-yard, par-5 18th hole. He thought his tee shot bounced left into a hazard but after a short search the ball was located in the heavy rough.

“It was only a yard and a half off the fairway but it kicked about three yards left coming in off the tee,” he said. “It looked really good but I was fortunate.”

Branshaw laid up with his second shot and then wedged his third to about a foot, reaching 17 under and temporarily tying for the lead.

“You don’t want to get too far behind,” he said. “But you can’t control what they’re doing and you can’t guarantee yourself birdies.”

Third-Round Notes: Rob Oppenheim closed his round B-B-E for an 8-under 64, his lowest round of the year. Oppenheim stands at 14 under and is in third. He has made 12 cuts in 25 starts and has eight top-25 finishes but only one top-10, a tie for 10th at the Utah Championship. Oppenheim is No. 59 on the money list. … Daniel Summerhays continues his stellar season. The former BYU standout shot a 67, is at 12 under and tied for sixth. Summerhays has three runner-up finishes this year, including his last two starts. He came into the week No. 4 on the money list.

Monday qualifier Tommy Biershenk fired a 5-under 67 and is also at 12 under. This is Beirshenk’s third start of the year -- he tied for 32nd at the BMW Charity Pro-Am and tied for 51st at the Price Cutter Charity Championship. He didn’t play in any events last year and made only one start in 2008. His last top-10 was a tie for fifth at the 2005 Knoxville Open. … Jason Gore had a pair of eagles on par 5s (Nos. 4, 14). Gore shot a 3-under 69 and is at 8 under for the tournament. … Jim Gallagher Jr. shot a 1-under 71, thanks to a birdie on the par-3 17th hole and 17 pars. … Rookie Keegan Bradley shot a 3-under 69 and is tied for sixth. He has tied for third in his last two starts, and is No 15 on the money list.