Gary Woodland’s seven-point lead in the Reno-Tahoe Open sounds a lot bigger than it is in the wild modified Stableford scoring system.
Woodland holed out from a greenside bunker for eagle and hit an approach shot from the fairway to 2 inches for one of his six birdies Saturday to take the third-round lead with 37 points at Montreux Golf Club on the edge of the Sierra Nevada.
The scoring system awards eight points for eagle, five for eagle, two for birdie, zero for par, minus-one for bogey and minus-three for double-bogey or worse.
The late-charging Brendan Steele vaulted into second place with 30 points. He played the last six holes in 7-under par under a traditional format, capping five consecutive birdies with a 33-foot chip-in for eagle on the 616-yard 18th.
Woodland, the 2011 PGA Tour rookie of the year who like Steele has one career victory, said he figures it translates into maybe a two-stroke lead heading into a typical Sunday.
”It’s tough to tell in this format,” said Woodland, whose best finishes this year are three ties for 16th at the Phoenix Open, Memorial and AT&T National.
”Obviously, if you make birdies, you can move up quickly,” the Kansas native said. ”Somebody can hole out on a par-5 and all the sudden a seven-point lead vanishes.”
Just ask Steele, who started the day tied for 24th with 13 points. He had two bogeys with a lone birdie for a net zero points on the front nine but started the back side with a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-4 10th.
”Didn’t have any points going into No. 10 and I was feeling like I was getting run over,” he said. ”All of a sudden, things changed and the ball started going in the hole.”
”I think I was in 50th place going into the back nine, so you can obviously move up pretty quick,” said Steele, whose lone PGA victory also came during his rookie year at the 2011 Texas Open. His best finish this year is a tie for sixth at the Phoenix Open. Last year he tied for fourth at the Texas Open, tied for fifth at Phoenix and was eighth at Reno.
Beginning with the 518-yard 13th, Steele reeled off consecutive birdie putts of 13, 5, 7 and 6 feet.
The streak was in jeopardy when he hit into a bunker guarding the 464-yard, par-4 17th but holed out the sand shot from 27 feet. On No. 18, he drove the ball 364 yards, hit his second shot 246 yards into the rough behind the green, but – after moving some camera equipment and adjusting his swing because a fence was in the way – knocked his chip in the hole.
”Just trying to hit a good shot. I don’t ever really try to hole chips,” he said about the dramatic finish that is the best consecutive, six-hole stretch on the PGA Tour this year.
The 17 points Steele tallied on the back nine alone equal the best one-day record in the format at Reno, equaling the mark J.B. Holmes set last year and Rod Pampling equaled in Friday’s second round. Under traditional play, Steele’s card would have read 37-28-65.
”It doesn’t happen that often. You really have to enjoy it when it does,” he said. ”I mean, I didn’t know what the score even was, but as far as the score goes, it’s probably the best I’ve ever had.”
David Mathis heads into Sunday’s round in third place with 29 points, followed by second-round leader Andres Romero at 27, Charlie Wi at 25, Dickey Pride 24 and Rory Sabbatini 23. Stuart Appleby was in a group two more points back at 21.
Woodland, who claimed his victory at the 2011 Transitions Championship, holed out from a greenside bunker 50 feet away for an eagle on the par-5 second Saturday then chipped in from about 53 feet after hitting his tee shot over the green into the rough on the par-3 seventh to avoid trouble early.
”Today was an interesting day,” said Woodland, who started the day in second place with 21 points, one behind Romero.
”I felt like I hit it really well, I just didn’t hit many greens, especially early in the round,” he said. ”All in all, my short game saved me today.”
Woodland sandwiched birdies around a bogey on the par-5 ninth when he failed to get up and down out of a greenside bunker and two-putted for birdie on the par-5 13th before his 126-yard approach shot on the 439-yard 15th stopped just 2 inches shy of the hole.
He added a 12-foot birdie putt on the 18th to head into Sunday’s final round ahead by seven points.
”All in all, I’m going to have to go out and make birdies tomorrow,” he said.