By Joe Chemycz, Web.com Tour staff
Broussard, La. – Lefty Edward Loar of Dallas fired a 7-under 64 Saturday and moved into the lead after 54 holes of the Chitimacha Louisiana Open. Loar’s 15-under 198 total is one better than Troy Merritt (66) and two in front of Morgan Hoffmann, who torched Le Triomphe Country Club with a 9-under 62.
With overcast skies and a threat of rain but no discernable wind, the par-71 layout was susceptible to low scores. The scoring average dipped to 68.464, more than three full strokes below Thursday’s opening round.
“You know on this tour you better stay aggressive and you better keep making birdies,” said Loar, who tied for second at the Chile Classic two weeks ago after sharing the 54-hole lead. “The conditions were really good early on. I saw the flags were pretty limp and knew some guys were making birdies. I knew the opportunities were there and luckily I was able to capitalize on them.”
Loar started the day three shots back of leader Darron Stiles (71/202) but made up ground quickly with a birdie at No. 1 and then made four in a row starting at No. 4.
“I’ve played the front nine great all week,” said Loar, who is 14-under on the starting side. “I got off to a great start which, looking at the board, I needed to.”
The 35-year old father of triplets rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the closing hole to retake the lead from Merritt, who had dropped to 14-under with a bogey at the par-3, 16th.
“I’ve always felt real comfortable near the lead and I’ve felt like I’ve played pretty good,” said Loar, who is looking to add another title to the one he captured at the 2012 Panama Claro Championship. “It’s obviously the reason everyone is out here and hopefully you give yourself a chance.”
Merritt, two back to begin the day, also bolted from the gate with birdies on five of his first six holes to get to 13-under.
“I saw we were getting run down pretty quickly so I knew there were a lot of birdies out there,” he said. “It’s been kind of a logjam the last few days and so the goal today was getting as many birdies as I could and hopefully separate myself a little bit from the field.”
Merritt, winner of the 2009 Mexico Open, took sole possession of the lead with birdies at the 10th and 12th holes but failed to add to his total.
“I made some putts on the front nine,” he said. “On the back nine I had some good looks but I couldn’t get them to drop.”
Hoffmann went off the 10th in the second group and shot up the board with two birdies and an eagle in his first four holes. He later added five birdies in six holes on the front and posted the best score of the week.
“I knew it was a good start to a good day. I felt great,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to put a number in my head. I just wanted to keep it going and see where it went.”
Jim Renner, Richard S. Johnson and Shane Bertsch all matched 7-under 64s and jumped into a tie for fourth place with Monday qualifier Blayne Barber (65). That group is at 12-under 201 and three off the pace.
Third-Round Notes & Quotes:
• Saturday weather: Cloudy skies with light rain late. Wind light and variable. High of 77, low of 67.
• Sunday’s fourth-round play will be in twosomes off the first tee. Times will run from 7:55 a.m. to 1:10 p.m.
• Second-round leader Darron Stiles was one off the lead when he three-putted No. 14 for double bogey and bogeyed the next hole. The 2012 News Sentinel Open winner settled for an even-par 71 and is T8, four shots back.
• PGA TOUR rookie Morgan Hoffman made a big move with a career-low, 9-under 62 that put him at 13-under and solo third. Hoffman rolled in one eagle putt from 30 feet but the eight birdies he put on the board were all from fairly close range.
“It just clicked better today,” he said. “I worked on my swing last night and knew where the ball was going, which helps.”
Hoffman earned his 2013 card by finishing No. 19 on the Web.com Tour money list in 2012 despite starting the year without any status. The former Oklahoma State All-America made 12 of 13 cuts last year and posted seven top-10 finishes. He lost a playoff at the Chiquita Classic to Russell Henley, winner of the Sony Open in Hawaii this season.
He then finished T3 at the Web.com Tour Championship last October to move up 12 spots from No. 31 and gain his status.
Hoffmann has made two cuts in five starts and was T14 at the Puerto Rico Open a couple weeks ago.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of the year and it’s worn off. I’m just trying to go out there and play golf now and trust my game,” he said. “It’s just confidence. The competition out here is as good as the PGA TOUR.”
Hoffmann says part of the process this year is to dial back his aggressiveness.
“I’ve really been working on hitting shots and starting them at the middle of the greens and working towards the pins,” he said. “I used to go at pins no matter where they were. I’m trying to get smarter because if I miss in the middle, I can still make a 20-footer.”
Hoffmann’s previous career-low was 64, which he did three times, most recently in the second round of the 2012 WNB Golf Classic.
• Patrick Sheehan matched Hoffmann’s 62 later in the day and vaulted from a T57 to T8. Sheehan made the cut on the number (-2) but raced past the field with a 7-under 29 on his opening nine holes. Sheehan matched his career-low score with his effort Saturday. Sheehan has a combined 372 starts on two tours -- 206 PGA TOUR and 166 Web.com Tour. He fired a 9-under 62 in the first round of the 2002 Gila River Classic (Web.com Tour) and also carded an 8-under 62 in the opening round of the 2005 Bank of America Colonial (PGA TOUR).
• New Zealand’s Tim Wilkinson matched his career-best score with a 64 today. Wilkinson, a lefty who now lives in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., pulled his tee shot into the water at the 18th hole and made bogey for his 7-under round. He stands at 11-under and is T8.
• First-round co-leader John Peterson of Baton Rouge vaulted back into contention with a 6-under 65. Peterson, the former LSU All-America who tied for fourth at the U.S. Open last year, is now 11-under and T8. He fell back in the pack with a 1-over 72 in Friday’s second round.
• The first three tournament winners of 2013 are competing this week:
• Best rounds of the day:
62 -- Morgan Hoffmann, Patrick Sheehan
63 -- Brice Garnett
64 -- Shane Bertsch, Richard S. Johnson, Jim Renner, Tim Wilkinson, Edward Loar, Michael Putnam
• Course statistics for this week: