CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- After three holes of the third round of the Wells Fargo Championship, Phil Mickelson and Scott Gardiner are tied for the lead at 8 under.
Gardiner, the Australian rookie who is on the verge of turning what he jokingly said he thought might be "agony" at the start of the week into ecstacy, chipped in for birdie at the first hole to close the gap. When Mickelson missed the thrid fairway, as well as the green, and made bogey the two playing partners were deadlocked.
Another rookie, Derek Ernst, made birdie on his first hole and is one stroke behind the leaders, tied with Nick Watney, who is even par through four holes. Rory McIlroy, who missed a 5-footer to save par at the fifth hole, has dropped back into a tie at 6 under with Ryan Moore, Rod Pampling and Lee Westwood.
Moore is by far the furthest along after having played 14 holes. He birdied five of his first seven but made his first bogey at No. 12 so he's 4 under for the day. The other three are even for the day.
Scott Gardiner moved into a fourth-place tie Saturday at Waialae. (Petersen/Getty Images)
By Ann Miller, for PGATOUR.COM
HONOLULU -- Scott Gardiner’s PGA TOUR debut has been a little slice of paradise at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
In his first TOUR start, Gardiner is four shots off the pace being set by Russell Henley and Scott Langley -- two more rookies. The week started with 23 of this year’s 30 rookies.
Gardiner sank a five-foot birdie putt on the final hole to climb into a fourth-place tie Saturday with a third-round 65 at Waialae Country Club. He hit 16 greens in regulation and a three-putt bogey was all that marred his card.
“It’s amazing what happens when expectations are not there …,” Gardiner said. “I only hit balls once in the two weeks before the tournament because we had snow at Christmas and a couple days after.
“My wife and kids aren't here because I figured I wouldn't be much company at the start of the week because I’m trying to get myself somewhat competitive. But my mom and dad are here, just happy with how it's going.”
Gardiner has been more than competitive in his first three days on TOUR. The 36-year-old Australian is the TOUR’s oldest rookie this year.
He played 195 Web.com Tour events the last eight years. He won once before graduating, thanks to a 15th-place finish on last year’s money list with $234,000.
Sunday, he can make that with a top-five finish.
“I’ve been trying to remember some of the times I’ve played well on the Web.com Tour and that’s helped me a little,” Gardiner said. “All the years on the Web.com Tour have been fantastic so this is not as unfamiliar as it might be for other rookies.”
Gardiner bolted into the top 10 Friday with a 64 fueled by a crazy last couple hours. He played the first eight holes in 1 over, then had just one par in the final 10. He eagled the ninth, and sandwiched a double-bogey between seven back-nine birdies.
Like Henley and Langley, he is getting the hang of this awfully fast.
“When I played the Web.com I had already played a few seasons in Europe, so it was a great place to be,” Gardiner said. “To come to America, I was pretty naive, I didn’t know what I was getting myself in for. But it’s Hawaii. It doesn't get any better.”