NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Brian Stuard closed with a scrambling birdie for a 6-under 66 and a share of the Safeway Open lead Saturday with James Hahn and Cameron Percy.
On a day when eight players held or shared the lead, the trio of Stuard, Hahn and Percy emerged in front despite all three running into trouble at various times at Silverado Resort.
Stuard, who began the day five shots off the lead, hit only 10 of 14 fairways off the tee and had six birdies, including three straight on the front nine. He made a 7-foot putt on the par-5 18th after finding the rough.
“If you drive it in the fairway, you’re going to give yourself a bunch of chances and I think that’s the No. 1 key for me,” Stuard said, adding that his putting has been the difference this week. “I didn’t putt well to finish the end of the year and this week I feel like I’m seeing the lines a little better, so it’s nice.”
Hahn hasn’t been as steady on the green and needed 28 putts in the third round, but made birdies on Nos. 15 and 16 for a 67.
“I just put myself out of position on the par 5s, something to work on,” Hahn said. “And it’s kind of a good thing that I’m not quite all there yet and hopefully I can put it all together tomorrow.”
Percy had a 68 to join the group at 16-under 200. He nearly took himself out of the hunt after bogeys on Nos. 11 and 14, but bounced back with birdies on two of the final three holes.
Second-round leader Sam Burns struggled to a 72 that left him tied with Kristoffer Ventura (66) and Harry Higgs (70) at 15 under.
Emiliano Grillo (65), Stewart Cink (65), Doug Ghim (69), D.J. Trahan (70) and Russell Knox (70) were 14 under.
The course continues to bend toward lower scores as temperatures have increased. Even shots coming out of the rough seemed to play differently.
“I think the ground has dried out a lot so the ball’s going farther in the air, but it’s also going farther when it lands, especially off the tees,” said Cink, who at 47 is attempting to become the oldest winner on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson won at Pebble Beach at 48 in 2019. “The rough is dried out, so it’s playing a little bit more unpredictable than it was before when it was still kind of damp. And the greens are still holding.”
Cink, Burns, Ventura, Knox, Higgs, Stuard, Hahn and Percy all took turns in front of the pack. Holding the lead was a different story.
Higgs, who on Friday became the third player in tournament history to make an albatross, briefly took the lead with a birdie on 10 just as Percy bogeyed 11 to drop a stroke back.
But Higgs couldn’t sustain the momentum and bogeyed 13, then parred the final five holes.
“Not my best,” Higgs said. “I had a stretch there, 8, 9 and 10 that I felt really good. Kept hitting good shots and kind of felt like I was going to for sure have the lead today. Fortunate enough, I’ve still got a great chance to win tomorrow.”
Mickelson (70) is well off the pace in his tune-up for next week’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot. At 8 under, Mickelson conceded he may not be ready for the major.
“This is the worst I’ve played in the last three months,” Mickelson said. “And it’s deceptive because I didn’t make a bogey, but I didn’t drive it well, I didn’t chip it well and I didn’t putt well. I turned a 64 into a 70.”
Burns had a rough start for the second consecutive round. The second-round leader bogeyed two of the first three holes, scrambled for par on No. 5 after hitting his drive into the trees then saved par again on the par-3 No. 7 after his tee shot went into the sand. Burns also bogeyed No. 11.