RENO — The first time Gary Woodland led a PGA Tour event after 54 holes, he lost in a playoff.
This time, he hopes to finish the job.
Woodland, thanks to six birdies and an eagle, chalked up 16 points to take a seven-point lead into today’s final round of the 15th annual Reno-Tahoe Open at Montreux Golf and Country Club.
Woodland, who has been either first or second all week, leads hard-charging Brendan Steele by seven points (37-30) going into today’s final round. David Mathis is third with 29, followed by Andres Romero with 27, Charlie Wi with 25, Dicky Pride with 24 and Rory Sabbatini at 23. There is a four-way tie for eighth at 22 among Brian Harman, Russell Knox, Will Claxton and Tom Gillis.
Woodland is gunning for his second PGA Tour win. In 2011, he wiped out a two-shot deficit in the final round to win the Transitions Championship.
“Today was an interesting day,” Woodland said. “I felt like I played really well, felt like I hit it well. I just didn’t hit many greens, especially early in the round. I was a little long or a little short. I had some great chips, chipped in a couple of times, gave myself a lot of opportunities and I made a couple of putts to save par.
“I really got the momentum going and I hit some good shots coming in. I feel like I’m in really good control of my game. I got a great mental game plan this week, and it’s nice to be executing.”
Woodland, because of the Modified Stableford scoring format, equates his seven-point lead to a two-stroke lead in a regular event.
“I have to go out and make birdies tomorrow (Sunday),” Woodland said. “I’m just going to go out and try to get as many points as I can and execute my game plan, and hopefully it should be enough.”
Woodland, who entered the third round with 21, got off to a quick start when he holed a 50-foot bunker shot for eagle at No. 2 to get to 26 points. After four straight pars, he hold a chip shot from 53 feet for a birdie and his 28th point. He got to 30 with a 5-foot birdie on No. 8, but gave it back with a bogey on No. 9.
“I hit a good drive and kind of missed the second shot on No. 2,” Woodland said. “I hit a really good bunker shot and it went in. I thought it was a perfect shot (on 7), and it ended up going over the green, and I ended up chipping that one in.
“I think the par putt I made on the third hole really calmed me down. I hit a bad shot on the second hole. Obviously I saved it with a great eagle. If I give a point back after making an eagle, it’s kind of a momentum shift.”
Woodland birdied four holes on the back, and it’s a good thing he did because Steele was tearing up the back nine with 17 points.
“When I was on 9, I saw that he got it to 25,” Woodland said. “So I saw he was making a run, which was actually encouraging for me, because I realized there was some birdies on the back nine.”
Steele needed just 25 putts to compile 17 points, which tied the record set by JB Holmes last year and Rod Pampling on Friday. All 17 points came on the back nine.
In stroke play, Steele, who had seven birdies, an eagle and two bogeys, would have shot 65. His five birdies and an eagle in a six-hole stretch is the best on the PGA Tour this season.
“I really enjoyed myself here last year, and felt like I played pretty well the first two days but didn’t get a lot out of it,” Steele said. “I didn’t have any points going into 10, and I was feeling like I was getting run over. All of a sudden things changed and the ball started going into the hole.”
He added, “Yeah that doesn’t happen often (getting into a zone). You really have to enjoy it when it does. Seems like even when you make a mistake or miss a shot a little bit, it kind of works itself out. Usually you’re hitting good shots and are kind of like, I can’t believe it ended up over there, or I can’t believe that putt didn’t go in or whatever.”
Steele went through the front nine with a birdie on the par-4 6th sandwiched between bogeys at Nos. 4 and 7. He closed out the front side with back-to-back pars, setting the stage for his record-setting backside.
After canning a 10-foot putt for birdie on No. 10 to get to 15 points, he parred the next two holes, setting the stage for his barrage. His first four birdies in the streak came from 13, 5, 7 and 6 feet. On No. 17, he holed out from a greenside bunker for his fifth straight birdie.
On No. 18, Steele unleashed a 364-yard drive and then hit his approach shot 246 yards to the rough behind the green. He then chipped the shot in to finish off a back nine of 28 strokes and the aforementioned 17 points.
“I wasn’t even sure I had a swing,” Steele said. “I had a fence in my backswing and some camera equipment they needed to move, but I had a good lie, so I didn’t want to move the fence or have to take a drop. I was able to make a swing that fit the shot. I was able to put a pretty good strike on it and a little bit of luck to get it to go into the hole.
“I don’t even know what the score was, but as far as the score goes, it’s probably the best I’ve ever had. It was the best finish I could imagine, so it was pretty special.”
Mathis, meanwhile, continued his hot streak. He missed nine consecutive cuts in one stretch, but has now made the cut seven of his last nine events. He is currently 179th in the FedEx standings, and needs a top-5 finish to move up.
Mathis birdied three of his final seven holes to get 12 points.
“I’m thankful for a good week, thankful for things looking up,” Mathis said. “It’s been a frustrating year. Physically I would say I’ve been as good as I’ve ever been, but score-wise it’s probably been the worst of my career.”
Mathis visited putting guru Scotty Cameron, and feels that has helped.
“It was some good insight into basically what my coach has been telling me,” Mathis said. “It allowed me to see (things) and gave me some stuff to work on. It was a really good time there. I spent some time with Taylor Made as well that same week working on my wedges.”
Pride made the biggest charge up the leaderboard, moving up 28 spots thanks to a 13-point day. He had five birdies and an eagle, the latter coming on No. 18, which boosted him from 19 to 24 and sixth place in the standings.