Wheatcroft extends lead to eight strokes at Melwood

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Wheatcroft made two bogeys in his third-round 65.
June 04, 2011
Joe Chemycz, Nationwide Tour staff

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It's his to lose. Only a catastrophe by the leader or a miracle from a distant challenger will keep Steve Wheatcroft from the winner's circle at the Melwood Prince George's County Open on Sunday afternoon.

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Wheatcroft fired a 6-under-par 65 Saturday and extended his lead to a record-setting eight strokes after 54 holes at the University of Maryland Golf Course. The 33-year old Indiana University grad is a whopping 22-under par and eight shots in front of Nicholas Thompson (64) with only 18 holes to go.

England's Greg Owen (68) is alone in third, 10 shots behind.

Erik Compton (66), J.J. Killeen (66) and Jon Mills (68) share fourth place at 11-under par.

The end is in sight for Wheatcroft, who has never won on the either the Nationwide Tour or the PGA TOUR, and prior to Friday had never held the lead after any single round in 128 combined starts.

"Today's the day I was nervous about," said Wheatcroft, who fired a 10-under 60 in Friday's second round and began the day with a seven-stroke bulge, the largest 36-hole lead in Nationwide Tour history. "A seven-shot lead is one thing with nine holes to go but when you have 36 holes to go on a tough golf course that has a lot of rough and trouble, seven shots can go quickly."

Wheatcroft never let anybody get close. Birdies at Nos. 1, 4, 7, 8 and 9 pushed him to 20-under par and kept the field at a distance.

"Once I get through two and five, those are the holes that have been giving me fits all week, once we get through those it's green light, it's time to run," he said. "I feel like every hole is a birdie hole after that."

Wheatcroft gave himself plenty of chances before closing with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18 to up the lead to eight, which also goes into the books as the largest 54-hole lead in Tour history.

"I tried to not do one thing different today than what I've been doing," said Wheatcroft. "One shot, eight shots or 20 shots, let's go play golf. This is the way I play, I'm fairly aggressive to begin with. I won't do anything stupid -- I won't chase pins with crazy shots but if I feel good on a shot we're going right at it."

His ready, aim, fire approach has been nearly perfect, along with his putting, which continues to be his strength. Wheatcroft has only 71 putts in 54 holes to lead the field.

"I'm still hitting some loose shots here and there with the irons but the putter has been great," he said. "It's definitely one of the best weeks I've ever played and it's one of the putting best weeks. I like these weeks where I'm seeing the lines and I'm hitting my lines beautifully."

Thompson will get the up close look in Sunday finale but knows it's going to be tough to catch the man they call "Wheatie."

"It's a tough one to swallow but what can I do now? I can't shoot any lower, I just finished," Thompson joked with reporters after turning in a scorecard that had nine birdies. "I birdied half the course so I can't complain too much. Anything below a 66 and you should move up, which I did but I didn't gain much on the leader."

Third-Round Notes

Gary Christian fired a career-low, 9-under 62 in Saturday's third round to move into contention at 10-under 203. Christian needed birdies on two of his final three holes Friday just to make the 36-hole cut on the number. His 20-footer on the last hole gave him new life on the weekend. His 62 bettered a pair of 63s, one of which came during the third round of the 2009 Northeast Pennsylvania Classic, his only Tour win.

"It felt like a free round of golf today because I didn't think I was going to make the cut," said Christian. "It was just easy, everything flowed. You pick out a spot and work out a shot to hit it there and it would go there."

Christian hit 12 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in moving up from a T52 at the start of the day to a T7 at the end.

• Compton birdied the short par-4, 8th today after making eagle there each of the first two days. He is 5-under on that hole thus far this week, and 6-under on the rest of the golf course. He shot a 66 today and stands T4 heading into Sunday's final round.

First 54 holes (72-hole tournament)
190 (65-61-64) David Branshaw, Whirlwind GC (Devil's Claw), (par 71), Chandler, AZ, 2002 Gila River Golf Classic (23-under par)
191 (64-62-65) Scott Piercy, Crestview CC (par 71), Wichita, KS, 2008 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open (22-under par)
191 (66-60-65) Steve Wheatcroft, University of Maryland GC (par 71), 2011 Melwood Prince George's County Open (22-under par)
192 (63-65-64) Chris Smith, The Champions Club (par 71), Omaha, NE, 1997 Omaha Classic (21-under par)
192 (66-60-66) Arjun Atwal, Black Creek Club (par 72), Chattanooga, TN, 2008 Chattanooga Classic (24-under par)
192 (61-63-68) Kevin Chappell, The Georgian Bay Club (par 71), Raven GC at Lora Bay (par 72), Ontario, Canada, 2010 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic (22-under par)
192 (64-66-62) Tommy Gainey, TPC River's Bend (par 72), Cincinnati, OH, 2010 Chiquita Classic (24-under par)

• Wheatcroft's total of 191 is one stroke off the Nationwide Tour record for the lowest opening-54 hole score:

Player Tournament Scores Final result
Greg Kraft 2005 Northeast Pennsylvania Classic 65-64-68-70267 (-17) Won by 2
Parker MacLachlin 2007 Nat'l Mining Assoc. Pete Dye Cl. 63-68-68-77276 (-12) T4 -- 3 shots back

• Wheatcroft's 8-stroke lead is the largest 54-hole lead in Nationwide Tour history. Wheatcroft broke the mark of seven strokes held by two players:

• Wheatcroft has made 25 birdies through 54 holes and is in position to challenge the Tour record for most birdies made in a single tournament -- 31 by Craig Lile, 2003 Cox Classic.

• Wheatcroft shot a 60 on Friday and became one of 19 players in Nationwide Tour history to shoot 60 or better since the Tour started in 1990. Of those 19 players, four of them posted 60s in the final round and two of those were victorious -- Jeff Woodland, 1991 Dakota Dunes Open; Chris Couch, 2005 Rheem Classic. Checking the other 14 players who shot either 59 or 60, only three went to win the tournament:

-- Jason Gore 2005 Cox Classic shot 59 in R2 won in playoff -- Chris Nallen 2004 Gila River Golf Classic shot 60 in R1 won -- Arjun Atwal 2008 Chattanooga Classic shot 60 in R2 won in playoff

Player Tournament 59 or 60 Next round Tourney finish
Notah Begay 1998 Dominion Open 59 in R2 74 in R3 T6
Doug Dunakey 1998 Miami Valley Open 59 in R2 67 in R3 T2
Jason Gore 2005 Cox Classic 59 in R2 68 in R3 Won in playoff
Jeff Woodland 1991 Dakota Dunes Open 60 in R3 -- Won
Clark Dennis 1997 St. Louis Golf Classic 60 in R3 -- 3rd
Jimmy Green 1998 Carolina Classic 60 in R1 68 in R3 2nd
Matthew Lane 1998 Greensboro Open 60 in R2 75 in R3 T18
Jeff Freeman 2001 Fort Smith Classic 60 in R3 65 in R4 P2
Craig Lile 2003 Omaha Classic 60 in R2 69 in R3 2nd
Tyler Williamson 2004 Price Cutter Charity Ch. 60 in R4 -- Won
Chris Nallen 2004 Gila River Golf Classic 60 in R1 66 in R2 Won
Chris Couch 2005 Rheem Classic 60 in R4 -- Won
Jon Mills 2005 Cox Classic 60 in R2 71 in R3 T3
Brenden Pappas 2007 Chitimacha Louisiana O. 60 in R1 74 in R2 T12
Chris Thompson 2007 Cox Classic 60 in R1 71 in R2 T8
Michael Letzig 2007 NWT Championship 60 in R1 66 in R2 2nd
Arjun Atwal 2008 Chattanooga Classic 60 in R2 66 in R3 Won in playoff
Travis Hampshire 2011 BMW Charity Pro-Am 60 in R2 68 in R3 T4
Steve Wheatcroft 2011 Melwood PGC Open 60 in R2 65 in R3 TBD

• Here is how the 19 players who have posted a 59 or 60 in Nationwide Tour history have followed up their low scores and how they finished in the tournament:

• Bogey-free rounds this week:

R1 -- Stephen Gangluff (70) R2 -- Steve Wheatcroft (60) , Dicky Pride (70), Scott Dunlap (70), Adam Balnd (70) R3 -- Gary Christian (62), Wil Wilcox (66), Tyrone Van Aswegen

Scoring average
  Front 9 Back 9 Total Cumulative
R1 36.058 35.135 71.194 --
R2 36.370 34.994 71.364 71.278
R3 35.367 34.433 69.800 71.058

• Scoring Averages for the week:

36 holes (consecutive rounds)
124 (61-63) Kevin Chappell, The Georgian Bay Club (par 71), Raven GC at Lora Bay (par 72), first and second rounds, Ontario, Canada, 2010 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic (19-under par)
125 (62-63) Jason Day, Champions Run (par 71), third and fourth rounds, Omaha, NE, 2007 Cox Classic (17-under par)
125 (60-65) Jeff Freeman, Hardscrabble CC (par 70), third and fourth rounds, Fort Smith, AR, 2001 Fort Smith Classic (15-under par)
125 (64-61) Jason Gore, Whirlwind GC (Devil's Claw), (par 71), first and second rounds, Chandler, AZ, 2002 Gila River Golf Classic (17-under par)
125 (61-64) David Branshaw, Whirlwind GC (Devil's Claw), (par 71), second and third rounds, Chandler, AZ, 2002 Gila River Golf Classic (17-under par)
125 (61-64) Webb Simpson, Black Creek Club (par 72), first and second rounds, Chattanooga, TN, 2008 Chattanooga Classic (19-under par)
125 (60-65) Steve Wheatcroft, University of Maryland Golf Course (par 71), second and third rounds, College Park, MD, 2011 Melwood Prince George's County Open

• Wheatcroft has posted scores of 60-65 in the second and third rounds, matching the second-lowest 36 hole score in consecutive rounds in Tour history. Kevin Chappell's 61-63� 124 in the first and second rounds of the 2010 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic is the best all time and Wheatcroft joins five others who have shot 125s over a two-round period:

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