Williams' back-nine rally gives him 54-hole lead

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Stan Badz/PGA TOUR
Matt Hendrix trails leader Lee Williams by one stroke at the Mexico Open.
June 09, 2012
Laury Livsey, PGA TOUR Staff

LEON, Mexico -- It was just one frustration after another for Lee Williams, who was having trouble making putts on the front nine during the third round of the Mexico Open. Four missed putts, all inside 10 feet, left him with an even-par 36 to open his third round. But four consecutive birdies on Nos. 10 through 14 led him to a 4-under 68 Saturday and a 54-hole score of 204, good for a one-shot lead over a trio of players. It's Williams' first 54-hole Nationwide Tour lead.

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"I'll take anything around the lead or in the lead. It doesn't matter," Williams said after his round. "It's a sign you're playing well, and all I have to do is keep approaching the same way I have the first three days."

Good plan because it's certainly working for the Alexander City, Ala., native, who still makes his home there. After playing bogey-free golf in the second round, he only had one bogey Saturday, on the sixth hole, and with rounds of 69-67-68, he's the only player in the field with three sub-70 rounds on El Bosque Country Club.

"I like this course. It's tough. There's not much room for error on it," Williams said.

He probably wasn't liking the course as much earlier in his round when he missed those four makeable putts -- three of them for birdie.

"They were wobbling," Williams said of not only those putts but many during his round. When you play in the last group, there are so many footprints. So they were just wobbling, and they weren't wobbling at the right time to get them back in the hole."

That changed during his four-hole, back-nine stretch when he made nothing but birdies.

In close pursuit behind Williams are Doug LaBelle II, Scott Gardiner and Matt Hendrix. LaBelle tied Andy Pope for low-round-of-the-day honors, a 7-under 65, putting him in position to win his first Tour title since the 2006 Price Cutter Charity Championship in Missouri. His 7-under score was surprising since in the 10 weekend rounds he's played this season prior to Saturday, his best score is a 71, at the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship.

"I've been playing very well all week. I hadn't made any putts through at least the first 27 holes. I was finally able to hit my lines on the greens and see my reads a little better," said LaBelle, a resident of Scottsdale, Ariz. "This year, I haven't really taken advantage of my opportunities, and I'm not minimizing my mistakes.

"But on a day like today," he continued, "I'm maximizing my opportunities and minimizing the mistakes."

Hendrix, meanwhile, is seeking his first Tour title, while Gardiner, like LaBelle has won once on Tour, at the 2010 Chattanooga Classic.

Hendrix said a 40-foot two-putt from the top shelf of the eighth green and a difficult up-and-down from off the green on nine were key to giving him a chance to get in position to make a move up the leaderboard. "That was a real pick-me-up, making those two saves," he said. He then birdied the 17th and 18th for his 5-under 67.

While Williams has the lead with a round to play, there are 12 other players within five shots of him. A year ago, Erik Compton was tied for eighth, two off the lead after three rounds, and he came back to win. As Hendrix said, "Anything can happen on those last two holes. You can do like I did today and birdie the last two or you can run into some problems."

Third-Round Notes

Andy Pope tied Doug LaBelle II with a 65, the low rounds Saturday. Pope moved from a tie for 42nd when the day began to a tie for seventh going into Sunday. Pope did all this despite three bogeys. He made up for those blemishes with seven birdies and an eagle, on No. 8.

Matt Harmon had the tournament's first hole-in-one this year and its sixth overall. Harmon knocked in his 4-iron from 242 yards on No. 7 for his first career Nationwide Tour hole-in-one. It was the 11th in competition this season. Other aces at this tournament have come from Spike McRoy, Matt Every and Miguel Rodriguez in 2008, Steven Taylor in 2009 and James Nitties last year.

• Harmon is the third player this week to record two eagles in the same round. He also made eagle on his opening hole Saturday morning. The other players with two eagles in the same round are Justin Bolli on Nos. 1 and 18 in the first round and Tyrone Van Aswegen on Nos. 8 and 10 in the second round.

Antonio Serna and Harmon both have three eagles this week. Serna's have come on three different holes (Nos. 8 and 18 in the first round and Nos. 1 in the third round). Besides his two eagles Saturday, Harmon's other eagle came on No. 1 in the first round.

• Two 54-hole leaders have gone on to win the Mexico Open since it became a Nationwide Tour event in 2008: Jarrod Lyle (2008) and Troy Merritt (2009). Lyle earned a five-stroke victory, and Merritt won in a playoff.

• The player to come from farthest off the leading pace and win after 54 holes is Erik Compton in 2011. He began the final round tied for eighth and ended up winning by a stroke.

• After the par-4 sixth hole played as the most difficult hole in the first round, and the ninth hole was toughest in the second, No. 6 again gave the field troubles Saturday, playing as the most difficult of El Bosque Country Club's 18 holes. The stroke average there was 4.462 in the third round and is a cumulative 4.687 through 54 holes.

• Second-round leader Tag Ridings shot a 4-over 76 Saturday a day after shooting a 69. He dropped from first to a tie for 17th with a round to play.

Pos. Name Scores (to par)
T35 Antonio Serna 68-75-72--215 (1-under)
T45 Armando Favela 73-69-74--216 (even)
T45 Yoshio Yamamoto 73-71-72--216 (even)
T60 Federico Garcia 72-71-77--220 (4-over)

• Four Mexico natives made the cut at the Mexico Open. Here are their results and where they stand through 54 holes:

Pos. Name Country Scores (to par)
T17 Julian Etulain Argentina 70-71-70--211 (5-under)
T30 Fabian Gomez Argentina 72-70-72--214 (2-under)
T35 Benjamin Alvarado Chile 70-71-74--215 (1-under)

• Three additional Latin Americans made the cut. Here are their results:

Troy Merritt, the 2009 Mexico Open champion, at least put himself in position to make a run at a second title. Saturday, he shot a 4-under 68 that included a double bogey on the 14th hole. He's at 6-under 210, six strokes behind Lee Williams.

• There were no bogey-free rounds Saturday.

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