MITCHELLVILLE, Md. -- Final decisions seldom come quickly in Washington, D.C. So it should be no surprise that Paul Claxton, Patrick Sheehan and Jaco Van Zyl and 12 others are within just four strokes after the third round at the inaugural $600,000 Melwood Prince George's County Open near the nation's capital.
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Sheehan had a chance to take sole possession of the lead Saturday until his 4-foot putt slipped just by the edge of the final hole. Sheehan and Van Zyl shot matching 68s in the final group, while Claxton birdied the 18th for a 67 and his share of the third-round lead.
"Anyone within six shots has a chance right now," Sheehan said. "The players are so good out here, the leaderboards tend to get stacked up. I grew up in the Northeast, so I love playing tree-lined golf courses like this. "
Sheehan and Claxton rank No. 11 and No. 12 on the money list, respectively, this year. A victory for either would go a long way toward the ultimate goal of finishing the year inside "The 25" and earning his PGA TOUR card for the 2008 season.
Sheehan nearly fired his second consecutive bogey-free round until his approach on the 17th hole ricocheted off a tree, resulting in his first bogey in 39 holes. Sheehan has three top-10 finishes this season on the Nationwide Tour, including his last two events.
Sheehan has led or shared the lead three times on the Nationwide Tour, all in 2002. In those events, he finished with a victory at the Price Cutter Charity Classic, T6 at the Virginia Beach Open and T7 at the Knoxville Open.
Sheehan played in the final group earlier this year at the Movistar Panama Championship, where he finished T2. He spent the last four years playing on the PGA TOUR, his best season coming in 2004, when he made more than $1.2 million with three top-10 finishes.
Already the leader in career earnings on the Nationwide Tour, Claxton is in position to become the Tour's first player to earn more than $1 million for his career. Claxton needs just less than $7,000 this week to reach $1 million. A top-20 finish would likely put the 1992 graduate of the University of Georgia over the mark.
"I played solid the last two days," he said. "This course is in great shape, there is a long way to go. I have to keep my foot on the gas and go out and play well."
Winner of the 20001 Louisiana Open, Sunday will be the first time since the 2000 Hershey Open that Claxton will head into the fourth round with the lead or a share of the lead on the Nationwide Tour. Claxton lost earlier this year in a playoff to Skip Kendall at the Chitimacha Louisiana Open.
Van Zyl persevered through an up-and-down round that included five birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey as he approached the 16th hole -- which has been the most difficult of the tournament through three rounds. But not for Van Zyl. On a hole that has allowed just 26 birdies, the 28-year-old South African birdied it for the third time this week. It gave him the spark he needed, and Van Zyl closed with birdies on the final two holes.
"You would expect someone to break away on this golf course," said the 28-year-old South African. "Hopefully I'll be that guy tomorrow."
Van Zyl started the year as a rookie on the PGA TOUR after a remarkable 2006 Qualifying Tournament. Entering the final round of q-school at even par tied for 75th, he shot a low final-round 64 to finish T29 and earn his card. Things have not gone as well for Van Zyl to start his season, missing his first five cuts. He made his first cut on the PGA TOUR last week with a T48 finish at the AT&T Classic.
Third-Round News & Notes: Scott Gardiner fired the only bogey-round on Saturday. ... The scoring average for Saturday's round was 70.486. For the tournament, the course is playing at 71491. ... Danny Ellis fired the low round of the day with a 7-under 65, moving from T55 to T11. His round included began with a stretch of 12 holes that only included two pars, two bogeys and eight birdies. ... Craig Bowden withdrew following Saturday's round.
THEY SANG IT: On the 18th green, Steve Pate received a surprise rendition of "Happy Birthday" from the gallery. The six-time winner on the PGA TOUR celebrated his 46th birthday on Saturday and is currently at 4 under par.
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