WICHITA, Kan. -- Michael Walton shot his second consecutive 66 on a windy Saturday to take a one-stroke lead following the third round of the $500,000 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open.
|INSIDE THE NUMBERS|
|WALTON THRU 54 HOLES|
The 32-year-old from Palm Desert, Calif., made his first start of the year on the Nationwide Tour last week after Monday qualifying for the Cox Classic in Omaha, Neb. A tie for 23rd at that event earned him a spot in the field this week. Walton, who has also played on the Canadian Tour and the Golden State Tour this season, has spent the last eight seasons working his way back after spending one full season on the Nationwide Tour in 1998.
"I've always said that it doesn't matter what tour I am playing as long as I feel I am continuing to improve as a golfer. The name of the tournament may change, but I treat every event the same no matter what tour I am playing," he said. "I've played really well all year. I've been putting myself in good position. My coach and I talk about being in position on the weekend."
Walton has made four cuts in five events on the Canadian Tour this year, including three top-10s and a runner-up finish at the Times Colonist Open. A member of the 1997 National Championship team at Pepperdine University with Jason Gore, Walton said he still keeps in touch with his college teammate.
"We talked Saturday night before last week's final round. He remembered being five strokes back on Saturday before he won in Omaha. He's a great friend and a great guy," he said. "He also tells me some things that I can't repeat."
Walton started the day four strokes off the lead held by Brad Elder and Bradley Hughes. Walton's round of 66 matched the second-best score on a day with 12-20 mph winds that gusted to 25-30 mph. Scores went from an average of 68.886 on Friday to 70.386 on Saturday.
Hughes won this event in 2004 but ranks No. 157 on the money list this season. Although he wished he could have scored a little better, Hughes is satisfied with the way he is playing.
"I think I played good enough today to score better. I hit some good shots that the wind killed today," the 40-year-old Australian said. "I do enjoy playing this golf course. The year I won here, the wind was blowing as well in the same direction. So I know how to play, it's just a matter of getting the right clubs in my hand and executing my shots."
Sponsor's exemption and local favorite Rich Morris made the best of his early tee time and shot the low-round of the day with a 7-under-par 64 and is two strokes behind Walton. The Arkansas graduate from El Dorado, Kan., made the cut on the number and played in the first group of the day. He entered the tournament as a sponsor's exemption for the second straight year after finishing tied for 21st here in 2006.
"You can really feed off the people cheering for you," he said. "When you hit a good shot and somebody's cheering, those 200 yards you have to walk up to the green, it makes you feel pretty good."
Morris led the third-round in driving accuracy, hitting 12 of 14 greens, and ranked second with 23 total putts for his round.
"I'm glad to see it blow here," Morris said of the windy conditions. "It seems like in years past, or last year, it didn't blow. The defense of a lot of these golf courses in Kansas is the wind. These guys are going to get a taste of the conditions and luckily, I had an early time. It was a huge advantage and I recognize that."
If Morris can make the most of his final round on Sunday, he could become the first player to make the cut on the number and go on to win on the Nationwide Tour since Justin Bolli at the 2004 Chattanooga Classic.
Third-Round News & Notes: After 17 bogey-free rounds on Friday, David McKenzie and Rich Morris were the only players to make it through their third round without a bogey on their scorecards. ... There were four eagles on Saturday after 33 during Friday's round. ... Brad Ott secretly convinced the large crowd at the 17th green to sing 'Happy Birthday' to his wife, Michelle, on Saturday. ... Five out of 14 third-round leaders have gone on to win in tournament history. ... The winner has come from the final group 15 times this year on the Nationwide Tour.