Stallings charges five ahead at Challenge
LA QUINTA, California - American Scott Stallings, helped by a pair of eagles, surged five strokes clear of the field with a sizzling display of golf in the third round of the Humana Challenge on Saturday.
One shot off the pace overnight, Stallings fired a nine-under-par 63 on the Nicklaus Private course at PGA West, one of three venues hosting the tournament renowned for its low scoring in the California desert.
Bidding for a third victory on the PGA Tour, Stallings eagled the 13th and the eighth after starting out at the 10th to take command with a 22-under total of 194 in the pro-am celebrity event.
"I feel good," Stallings told reporters after scrambling well in a round that also included five birdies. "I played well. I stayed aggressive. I've been smart when I got out of position.
"Just because I played really good, doesn't mean that I've hit it perfect on every single hole. I scrambled a little bit."
Former British Open champion Stewart Cink, who has struggled for consistency over the past four years, carded a 66 on the Palmer layout to share second place with fellow American Roberto Castro (69), the co-leader overnight with James Hahn.
Also at 17 under with Cink and Castro after another ideal day for scoring with hardly a breath of wind in the sun-drenched Coachella Valley were Americans Charles Howell III (67), John Rollins (64) and Charley Hoffman (67).
BEST OF THE WEEK
Little-known American Brian Stuard was a further stroke back after shooting the best round of the week, a 62 on the Palmer course, putting him among a group including compatriot Kevin Streelman (66) and South Korean Bae Sang-moon (64).
Twice former champion Phil Mickelson flirted with the cut for much of the day but eventually made sure he would qualify for Sunday's final round as he completed a six-birdie 66 to go 11 under at 205.
A stroke outside the cutline with three holes to play, he birdied 16 and 17 before parring the last despite dumping his second shot into water.
Rollins was Stallings' playing partner for a third consecutive day, a pairing which has so far proved beneficial for the tournament leader.
"Playing with John was a huge help," said Stallings. "He's a good guy and he was an easy guy to club off of. He played well just like I did.
"We have made a lot of birdies the last couple days, and so we kind of fed off each other. That's definitely what you need to try to do in this format."
Asked what his strategy would be for Sunday's final round on the Palmer Private layout, Stallings replied: "Go do the same thing I've done for the last three days. I've been aggressive.
"Obviously, a lot can happen coming down the back nine, especially with all the birdie holes, but it is what it is. I'll go out there and try to be aggressive early and go from there." (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)