(Reuters) - American Cameron Champ tamed windy conditions to jump to a three-shot lead in the third round at the Safeway Open in northern California on Saturday.
The longest hitter on the PGA Tour shot a bogey-free five-under-par 67 at the Silverado Resort in Napa, California, though his lead would have been even bigger had he not squandered seven-foot birdie chances on the final two holes.
A slightly deflated Champ posted a 14-under 202 total on a day when halfway leader Bryson DeChambeau struggled to a 76 and fell six shots off the pace.
Canadian Nick Taylor stayed close to Champ for most of the day, before slipping back with two late bogeys in a 70.
Taylor was equal second with compatriot Adam Hadwin (67) and Colombian Sebastian Munoz (67) on 11-under.
Munoz, winner of last week’s Sanderson Farms Championship, birdied two of the final three holes to set himself up for a crack at back-to-back victories.
Big things have been expected of Champ, who led the PGA Tour in driving distance in his rookie season last year, with an average hit of 326 yards.
He wasted no time notching his first victory 11 months ago, but did not contend after that.
Starting Saturday three shots from the lead, he gathered five birdies, and seemed set for a sixth when he almost drove the green with a 350-yard strike at the downwind par-four 17th, but his putter deserted him.
“Today felt like a flawless day,” he told Golf Channel.
“It felt like I left a lot out there, especially the last two or three holes, but that’s the way the chips fall sometimes.”
Champ, 24, is playing with a heavy heart, his thoughts with his grandfather who has advanced stomach cancer.
“It’s been a pretty emotional week,” he said. “He made me realize there’s a lot more to life than golf.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Stephen Coates