Amid a disappointing season, Johnson Wagner has found a comfort zone not far from his college stomping grounds at Virginia Tech.
Wagner shot a 6-under 64 Saturday to take a two-stroke lead after the third round of the Greenbrier Classic. Wagner played golf at Virginia Tech less than a two-hour drive from The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
Wagner, who has yet to post a top-10 finish this year, broke a string of seven consecutive early exits at Greenbrier. He finished at 14 under on The Old White TPC course. Jimmy Walker also shot 64 and was in second place at 12 under.
In Wagner’s two previous tournaments, he had three birdies combined. He had seven of them on Saturday.
“I felt really comfortable all day,” Wagner said. “I hit a lot of good golf shots. I’ve got a really clear picture of what I’m trying to do on every swing.
The other two times Wagner held the lead going into the final round on tour, he won the 2008 Houston Open and the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in Mexico.
But no third-round leader has gone on to win the Greenbrier Classic, now in its fourth year. The tournament has been decided by a playoff the past two years, and Stuart Appleby shot 59 in the final round to win by a stroke in 2010.
Wagner said he isn’t going to stop being aggressive Sunday.
“I’m just going to try to make as many birdies as I can,” he said. “This golf course, when it’s firm and fast, may be one of my favorite places we play on tour.”
Still searching for his first tour win, Walker woke up sick early Friday morning and still wasn’t feeling well Saturday. His swing certainly didn’t suffer.
After seven consecutive pars on the front nine, Walker ran off five birdies late, including a 17-foot putt on the par-3 18th.
Walker is hoping to secure a spot in the British Open in two weeks. After the Greenbrier Classic, the leading five players not already exempt from inside the top 20 in the FedExCup points standings will earn spots at Muirfield.
2-WAY TIE AT FRENCH OPEN
Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and Richard Sterne of South Africa share a one-stroke lead after three rounds of the French Open.
McDowell shot a 1-under 70 while Sterne had a 71 on the tough Albatross course of Le Golf National, leaving both at 5-under 208.
Bernd Wiesberger of Austria (68), David Howell of England (69) and Richard Green of Australia (70) were at 209. Soren Kjeldsen of Denmark and Simon Dyson of England were at 210.
Francesco Molinari of Italy had the day’s best round, a 67 that left him four shots back. Second-round leader Fabrizio Zanotti of Paraguay fell to 214 after a 78.
Thomas Bjorn of Denmark held a two-shot lead after a birdie on No. 8 — where he nearly had a hole-in-one — before dropping four shots in the last four holes.
Martin Kaymer of Germany, Ian Poulter of England and Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain are part of a five-way tie at 213.
TRACKING LOCALS ON THE PGA TOUR
This week: The Greenbrier Classic, through Sunday, The Old White TPC, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
In the field: Olympia’s Andres Gonzales and Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley.
Gonzales’ third-round score: Even-par 70.
Position: Gonzales (1-under 209) is tied for 62nd, 13 strokes behind leader Johnson Wagner (14-under 196). Stanley (5-over 145) missed the cut Friday, tying for 133rd.
Recap: Celebrate the small victories when they happen. With a Sunday cut looming, the outlook on Gonzales did not look good early Saturday when he reached the final green, a good ways left of the hole location. But the Capital High School graduate drilled an 18-foot putt for birdie, which ensured he would be safe from the final-round cut – and earn a bit more cash.
Tee time Sunday: 6:15 a.m. (PDT) with D.A. Points.firstname.lastname@example.org