Sim takes control at Christmas in October Classictext sizeMichael Sim will graduate to the PGA TOUR if he can hold on to his lead for 18 holes on Sunday.August 22, 2009
Joe Chemycz, PGA TOUR Staff
Overland Park, Kan. -- There are dominating years and dominating players in golf and 24-year-old Australian Michael Sim is one round away from putting a record-setting stamp on the 2009 Nationwide Tour season. Sim posted a 6-under 65 in Saturday's third round of the inaugural Christmas In October Classic to take a three-stroke lead heading into Sunday's finale at the Nicklaus Golf Club at Lionsgate. Sim stands alone at 16-under 197, three in front of Josh Teater (63), Steve Wheatcroft (67) and Tom Gillis (68).
Hunter Haas (66) is four shots back of Sim, who has already won twice this season and would earn a "battlefield promotion" to the PGA TOUR for the rest of the year with a third victory.
"I feel great. My game is back to where it was at the start of the year and I'm making putts," said Sim, who took time away from the Nationwide Tour this summer and made the cut in the U.S. Open (T18) and last week's PGA Championship (T51). "I took a look at the leaderboard and there are a lot of guys bunched up there so tomorrow I'm going to have to play as good as I did today."
With no wind, soft conditions, wide fairways and perfect greens, Saturday's round was set up for low scores. The scoring average of 68.985 was nearly three full strokes below the 71.810 average on Friday when northwest winds were steady at 20 mph.
Sim has been steady and nearly perfect for the first 54 holes with 18 birdies and only two bogeys, both of which came on his closing holes during the first and second rounds. Other than those hiccups, Sim has put the field on notice that Sunday might be graduation day.
"He's always on your mind when you look at the leaderboards," said Wheatcroft. "You've got to know where he is."
In only 11 starts, Sim has earned $414,579, the seventh-best single-season total in the Nationwide Tour's 20-year history. A win Sunday will make him the first to top the half-million dollar mark.
Sim shared the second-round lead with Gillis and Paul Claxton (72-204) and steadily pulled away from his challengers. A chip-in birdie at No. 9 got him to 14-under par.
"I've been practicing that shot a lot and I haven't chipped one in in a while," said Sim of his 15-footer. "Sometimes you get over a chip and think 'I can make this.' You can see the line and you like the lie and sometimes all you have to do it get it on the green and let it roll out. That's what I had and I played it perfectly."
Playing partner Gillis followed up with a 25-foot birdie of his own to remain one back at the turn. Sim got up and down for par from 30 yards at No. 11 and then pulled away with back-to-back birdies on his next two holes. When Gillis bogeyed No. 13, Sim's lead was up to three. He closed with five straight pars to complete a bogey-free day and establish himself as the one to beat.
"Tiger lost a lead at the PGA so anything is possible," said Wheatcroft about the prospect of catching Sim.
The prospects may not seem bright because Sim feels that he's back on his game thanks to a visit from his coach the past two weeks.
"He got me back on track," said Sim, who missed the cut in his previous start on this Tour. "I haven't felt comfortable with my swing the last few events. I've never really had the same swing and the same feels since taking four weeks off after the Open. I feel like we've got it sorted out now. It's nice to see the ball going where I want it to go."
Gillis had a front-row seat Saturday was impressed by the Aussie's solid play.
"He really didn't do anything spectacular. He didn't put together any string of birdies. He was just steady," said Gillis, who is No. 3 on the money list and will join Sim on the PGA TOUR next year. "It was a ho-hum round. I'm still in good position but I think to have any chance tomorrow somebody's going to have to get to 20-under."
• After playing the first two rounds in lift, clean and place conditions, players were back to normal conditions of playing the ball down in round three.
• Sim is tied with Haas for No. 1 in putting. Each has 77 putts through 54 holes.
• Teater matched the low round of the week with an 8-under 63. His 63 is also a career-best, bettering the 64 he posted in the third of The Rex Hospital Open in late May. He moved to 13-under 200 and is tied for second.
• Garrett Osborn (65) ran off a string of five birdies in a row starting at No. 12. Osborn finished at 10-under 203.
• Second-round co-leader Claxton stumbled midway through the third round, suffering bogeys at Nos. 9, 10 and 11 to fall back to 9-under par at the time. Claxton, the first-round leader, finished with a 72 and is tied for ninth.
• David McKenzie eagled the par-4 15th hole. McKenzie holed a pitching wedge from 127 yards. It was the only eagle of the day.
• Sowards birdied five of his first six holes Saturday but played even-par the rest of the way. Sowards balanced three birdies with three bogeys on the next 13 holes and shot a 5-under 66. He is at 8-under 205 and tied for 15th place.
• Saturday's scoring average of 68.985 was well below Friday's second-round average of 71.810.