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“Moving day” in golf usually speaks of those chasing the lead after two rounds. For Jesse Mueller, who’d led by one after two rounds, it meant moving even further ahead.
In Tuesday's third round of the PGA Professional Championship, Mueller left the pack in the dust by recording a five-under-par 66 on the Fazio Foothills Course at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa. He enters the final round, to be played tomorrow on Fazio Foothills, by five shots.
Casey Pyne (204) birdied the 18th to sit in solo second, while Michael Block, Colin Inglis and Kyle Mendoza are six back at 205. Nine players in all are within seven shots of Mueller, who entered Tuesday with a one-stroke advantage over Austin Hurt, a PGA Head Professional from Wing Point Golf & Country Club in Seattle, and Dylan Newman, an Assistant Professional at Brae Burn Country Club in Purchase, New York.
As Newman struggled early, Mueller and Hurt spent most of the front nine jostling for position.
Hurt’s birdie on the second pulled him even with Mueller, who responded in kind on No. 4 to reclaim the lead. Hurt birdied 5 to tie again, but gave the shot back two holes later with his first bogey of the afternoon.
Mueller’s first body blow landed on the 479-yard, par-4 8th. After his first two shots left him 25 yards short of the green and almost 50 from the hole, par seemed a reasonable objective.
But the unreasonable happened as Mueller’s third shot 一 a wedge 一 landed softly, hopped twice and gently rolled into the hole for birdie. The lead jumped from one to three when Hurt bogeyed the same hole.
“That chip shot on 8 was big,” said Mueller. “Especially with how the course was playing. That shot really changed the round for me. It got me moving forward again. I settled down, hit a good tee shot on the 9th and after that I made a (number) of good passes at the ball.”
Mueller’s back 9 began with a scrambling par on 10 followed by a birdie on 11 that was matched by Hurt.
Mueller ー a 39-year-old PGA General Manager at the Grand Canyon University Golf Course in Phoenix ー found good fortune on the drivable par-4 12th when his leftward drive hit a tree and bounded back toward the fairway. The ensuing flop shot left a tap-in birdie and stretched his lead to four.
It reached five thanks to an eight-footer birdie putt on 16, where Hurt made double-bogey after hitting his tee shot into the trees.
On 18, Mueller capped his afternoon with a two-putt birdie from 10 feet. His three-day total of 199 will send him to bed tonight with a five-shot advantage.
“I plan to just play the golf course and trust my instincts,” said Mueller when asked about playing with a large lead. “If I see a need to go for it on a certain hole, I will. And if I need to lay back, I’ll do that. I plan to let my natural instincts come out tomorrow.”
Tuesday’s early move came from Zac Oakley, who began the day at even par and teed off more than three hours before the final group.
An Assistant Professional from Bidermann Golf Club in Wilmington, Delaware, Oakley quickly thrust himself into contention, posting six birdies on the front 9 en route to a 29.
Oakley’s scoring run eventually ended, but his 6-under 65 equaled the low round of the Championship on its primary course.
Kyle Mendoza made his own late surge, three birdies in his final four holes, turning in a four-under-par 67. The Assistant Professional from The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, California, is T-3 and six shots back entering the final round.
Pyne, who plays out of the The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, where he is an Assistant Professional, has posted three sub-par rounds during his stay at Barton Creek and is 3-under par the last two days on the Fazio Foothills Course.
Block, the Head Professional at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, California, has the talent and pedigree as the 2014 PGA Professional Champion to push Mueller. So does Inglis, an Assistant Professional at Shadow Hills Country Club, Junction City, Oregon.
Inglis will be chasing not only Mueller but his first Top-20 finish in the PGA Professional Championship. He debuted last year and finished T-35 at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
With three rounds completed, the PGA Professional Championship field has been trimmed for the second time. Seventy-five players will tee off for Wednesday’s final round.
The low 20 scorers earn berths in the 2022 PGA Championship, May 16-22, at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The final round of the 2022 PGA Professional Championship will be broadcast live on Golf Channel on Wednesday, April 20 from 3:00 - 6:00 p.m. EDT.