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      Three share 54-hole lead at Rex Hospital Open

    • Byron Smith lit up TPC Wakefield Plantation with a third-round of 63 with nine birdies and one bogey. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images) Byron Smith lit up TPC Wakefield Plantation with a third-round of 63 with nine birdies and one bogey. (Michael Cohen/Getty Images)

    RALEIGH, N.C. – Byron Smith fired an 8-under 63 Saturday and posted an 11-under 202 score that held up for hours as challengers and leaders failed to better his total at the Rex Hospital Open. Smith was long gone from TPC Wakefield Plantation when the third round finished up but the final results have him in a three-way tie for the lead with Texan Hunter Haas (67) and second-round leader Harold Varner III (70).

    Mexico’s Roberto Diaz (67) and Scott Gardiner (68) of Australia share fourth place, one shot off the pace.

    Nathan Tyler (68) and Duke grad Ryan Blaum (69) are tied for sixth, three back of the leaders.

    The story of the day was the 33-year old Smith, who chalked up nine birdies and moved up from a tie for 36th place and into the lead as the final groups were halfway through the front nine.

    “I didn’t have a number in mind at all,” he said. “I knew I was seven back and that anywhere in the five-six-seven range would put me in the mix. I knew if we just got the putter rolling we’d be all right.”

    Smith finally got things together on the greens when he needed it. He leads the tournament in greens in regulation but has seen his total putts reduced from 34 on Thursday to 31 on Friday and just 25 on Saturday.

    “I knew it wasn’t far off,” said the California native. “It was good today because I didn’t know how many under I was. I just stayed in that cruise control mentality and let everything come to me. I was on a good one but chose not to focus on the numbers.”

    Smith jumped out of the gate with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 2 but a balky driver kept getting off track and so he ditched it on the back nine in favor of a 3-wood.

    “I got the right’s going. It starts right and then it goes right,” he said. “I put the driver away and figured I’d sort things out on the range afterwards instead of trying to sort it out on the course. I did hit driver on 18 but that fairway is wide enough to land a plane on it.”

    Three-way tie for the lead at Rex Hospital Open
    • Round Recaps

      Three-way tie for the lead at Rex Hospital Open

    Three-way tie for the lead at Rex Hospital Open
    • Round Recaps

      Three-way tie for the lead at Rex Hospital Open

    Haas, a four-time winner on Tour, started the day three off the lead and figured he needed a 65 to get near the lead but his 67 was good enough.

    “I’m kind of surprised. You’ve got to be patient out there and you’ve got to hit some tee balls,” he said. “There’s some trouble out there and guys are finding it. The greens are big and fast and you can have some 40-footers. That’s a realistic birdie opportunity.”

    Haas was solid during the day but figured it could have been better.

    “My tempo was a lot better today and I hit the ball closer. I felt that (67) was as high as I could have shot,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was making long putts. I missed some 10-12 footers for birdie coming down the stretch.”

    Meantime, the 23-year old Varner was learning what it’s like to take the lead into the weekend. After four birdies in his opening 10 holes, the East Carolina rookie slugged his way to three bogeys in a four hole stretch.

    “It wasn’t a bad day. The score wasn’t what I wanted but I still have a share of the lead,” he said. “I’ve never been in this situation. I need to learn how to handle my emotions when I’m coming off a bogey. There’s another day thankfully.”

    Hunter Haas interview after Round 3 of the Rex Hospital Open
    • Interviews

      Hunter Haas interview after Round 3 of the Rex Hospital Open

    Hunter Haas interview after Round 3 of the Rex Hospital Open
    • Interviews

      Hunter Haas interview after Round 3 of the Rex Hospital Open

    THIRD-ROUND NOTES:

    • Fourth-round play will be in twosomes off the 1st tee. Times will run from 7:01 a.m. to 1:05 p.m.

    • Byron Smith’s 8-under 63 was one off the course record 62 set by Rob Bradley in the final round in 2003.

    • Byron Smith’s 63 today is his career-low round on the Web.com Tour. This was Smith’s 130th career round on Tour and this is his 45th start. His previous low score was a 64 (8-under) in the second round of the 2013 WNB Golf Classic at Midland CC in Texas.

    • Byron Smith’s 63 today is his low round of the year. His previous low was 65, which he posted twice earlier this year.

    • Byron Smith has made the cut in six of nine starts this year and has three top-25 finishes. His best week this season came at the Mexico Championship where he finished T19. He entered the week No. 66 on the money list.

    • Byron Smith is in his second full season on the Web.com Tour and his career-best finish is a solo second place at the 2013 WNB Golf Classic.

    • Byron Smith said the difference in the third round was his putting. The statistics back him up:


      Score Fairways GIR Putts
    R1 70 6 of 14 16 of 18 34
    R2 69 10 of 14 15 of 18 31
    R3 63 10 of 14 16 of 18 25

    • Hunter Haas is a four-time winner on the Web.com Tour. The 37-year old from Southlake, Texas collected trophies in 2004, 2006 and two in 201.

    • Max Homa started the day in solo second place and just one back of leader Harold Varner. Homa, winner of last week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am in Greenville, South Carolina, stumbled out of the gate with four bogeys in his fist six holes and turned the front side in 40 to drop to 5-under-par. He managed to get one back on the inward nine but finished with a 3-over 74 that dropped him into a tie for ninth, five behind the tri-leaders.

    • Former Florida State All-American Daniel Berger dropped out of contention Saturday with a 6-over 77 and is T55 after starting the day T3 and only three shots out of the lead. Today’s score was the second-worst of Berger’s rookie season – he shot a 9-over 80 in the opening round of the Chitimacha Louisiana Open. Berger has three top-10 finishes this year, including a pair of T3 weeks, and is No. 10 on the money list.

    • Leading money winner Carlos Ortiz posted a 1-under 70 and is T28 after 54 holes. Ortiz will maintain his grip on the No. 1 spot through this week as his nearest challenger, Andrew Putnam is T55 through the first three rounds and he entered the week with a nearly $100,000 advantage.

    • Utah native Tony Finau moved into the top 10 with a 3-under 68. Finau stands at 7-under after three rounds and is T8 heading into the final day.

    • Tony Finau is in his rookie season on the Web.com Tour and entered the week No. 38 on the money list. Finau has made the cut in six of his nine starts this year and has five top-25 finishes. His best week came at the season-opening Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship where he finished T14.

    The Triangle area is well represented this week by players who either grew up or attended college in the area:

    Name Connection Scores Standing
    Ryan Blaum Duke 67-69-69—205 (-8) T6
    Albin Choi N.C. State 70-70-72—212 (-1) T55
    Brad Fritsch Campbell 72-65-70—207 (-6) T9
    Ben Kohles Cary, NC 71-68-70—209 (-4) T28
    Kyle Reifers Wake Forest 70-71-69—210 (-3) T39
    Harold Varner III East Carolina 67-65-70—202 (-11) T1

    * Scoring averages for the week:

      Front (36) Back (35) Total (72)
    R1 35.481 35.295 70.776
    R2 36.052 35.162 71.214
    R3 35.974 35.487 71.461

    NEXT WEEK: The Web.com Tour will head take next week off before returning for the inaugural Cleveland Open June 2-8. The first-year event will be held at the A.W. Tillinghast-designed Lakewood Country Club in Westlake, OH.

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