RENO — Greg Chalmers finds himself in uncharted territory entering the final day of the 18th annual Barracuda Championship.
The 42-year-old Chalmers has never led a PGA event after 54 holes, and he’s winless in 385 starts on tour. It’s a drought he’d obviously like to end.
Chalmers racked up 15 points Saturday to improve to 39 for the tournament; six clear of 2013 champ Gary Woodland and young Ben Martin. Martin Laird sits in fourth at 28 after a six-point day, Steve Wheatcroft is fifth with 27 points following a nine-point effort, and 2006 champ Will MacKenzie is sixth with 26 points after an eight-point day. Wes Roach, Bronson Burgoon and Colt Knost are tied for seventh with 25 points.
The big story is obviously Chalmers, who was born in Australia and now lives in Texas. He’s the sentimental choice to finish the job today, and he needs to stay in the moment and not get ahead of himself.
“More than you can imagine,” said Chalmers when asked how big winning the event would be. “There is a lot of golf to be played tomorrow (today).
“It’s a necessity at this level, if you want to be successful. There’s a long way to go, and there’s plenty of players capable of shooting a lot of points out here. This golf course can give you a lot of points if you drive it well, get it into play, and start making a few putts. I’ll get out there tomorrow and get that first tee shot in play and get after it.”
Chalmers started with a bogey, but put together back-to-back birdies on Nos. 4 and 5 (chip-in) to get to plus-27. After three straight pars, he banged in a 16-footer on No. 9 to get to plus 29 at the turn.
After three straight pars to start the back side, he strung together birdies at 13, 14 and 15, sinking putts of 5, 5 and 28 feet to get to 35 and a 3-point lead on Woodland. Both players birded the par-5 18th.
“No question, I had a rough start,” Chalmers said. “I think the key to my round today was that stretch through 2, 3 and 4 where I got up-and-down on 2 and 3 for pars after bogeying my first hole.
“I birdied 4 and then chipped in on 5 as well for birdie and that kind of settled me down, I got rhythm moving back in the right direction. I played some really nice golf after that, really nice golf on the back nine.”
Woodland scored 11 points, and he thinks his past success will help him today.
“Yeah, a lot,” Woodland said. “Obviously you’d like to do it again. I had a pretty comfortable lead the last time I was here. Now I’m coming from behind. But I’m playing good golf; a golf course I really enjoy. It sets up great for me.
I look forward to tomorrow.”
Woodland recorded six birdies and had one bogey. He birdied all of the par-5s, which was critical because all four were reachable for him. He had two-putt birdies of 74 feet on No. 2, 24 on No. 8 and 27 on No. 13. He got down in two from more than 60 feet on No. 18. He also posted birdies on Nos. 5 and 11.
“I played beautifully all day,” he said. “I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have liked. I hit a lot of good shots; a lot of good putts. I would like to see a couple of more go in. Greg and I fed off each other all day.”
Martin had the most prolific day, recording 16 points thanks to eight birdies. His birdies came in bunches. He birdied Nos. 2 and 3, then 8 and 9, 13 and 14 and 17 and 18.
The youngster birdied all the par-5s, and that was a big key to his success.
“All the par 5s are reachable, even though the length on the card isn’t exactly what it plays since we’re a little bit of elevation,” he said. “I think on Tour, anytime you have a reachable par 5, you feel like if you don’t walk away with a 4, you’re kind of losing shots to the field.
“I hit it well. I got up and down whenever I missed the green. I rolled one in from the fairway on 17, so I took advantage of a couple of opportunities. But overall, if you could draw up this is how I want to play this course, I kind of did it today.”
Martin won a tournament in Las Vegas last year, and he said he would draw on that experience today.
“I think when I won in Vegas a couple of years ago I did a great job of just staying in the moment; playing the best fourth round that I could play and adding them up at the end,” Martin said. “I’ll try to take that mindset out there tomorrow.
“Obviously a lot on the line this week. And I haven’t had the season I would like to have had. So if I go out, play a good round tomorrow, it could turn everything around.”
Martin was asked if he had a number in mind he would need to win.
“I haven’t thought about a number yet,” he said. “My theory coming into the week was you had to make an eagle to win. I still haven’t made an eagle. Five points is huge. So I feel like if I get that eagle tomorrow, I play a solid round of golf, then we’ll add them up and see what happens.”
Laird sits in fourth after chalking up just six points on four birdies and two bogeys. Like many players, his score didn’t correspond with the way he hit the ball. He has three good finishes here in three attempts, so he’s a guy to keep an eye on.
Wheatcroft had a solid day with six birdies and three bogeys. He started with a bogey at No. 1, but then put together four birdies over his next seven holes. He bogeyed Nos. 11 and 16, but finished strong with birdies at 17 and 18.
Roach, who had six points in each of his two rounds, put together a solid 13-point effort thanks to seven birdies. His lone bogey came on the par-5th 18th, one of the simplest holes on the course.
Roach had four birdies in a six-hole stretch (Nos. 2, 3, 6 and 8) on the front side, draining putts of 9,1 and 2, and holing out a bunker shot on No. 6.
He drained a 28-foot putt for birdie on 11, tapped in from 3-feet on 13 and nailed a 5-footer on 14.
“I played well; hit the ball great,” he said. “Obviously not what the finish that I was looking for, but that doesn’t take away from the positives of the day. I hit the ball well and gave myself a lot of good chances. Anytime you can get around here and make six or seven birdies, maybe throw an eagle here and there it’s going to be good.”