PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Edward Loar fired a 2-under 68 in Saturday's windswept third round of the Panama Claro Championship and increased his lead to four strokes heading into Sunday's finale. Loar started the day with a 1-shot lead and steadily distanced himself from the field before stumbling with a bogey on the final hole.
His 8-under 202 total is four better than first-day leader Justin Hicks, who shot a 3-under 67.
Kevin Johnson went out early in the morning and fired a 7-under 63 that included six birdies in a row to close out his front nine. Johnson had made the 36-hole cut on the number (+4) and vaulted up the board thanks to the best round of the week, which he finished two hours before Loar even teed off.
Johnson is joined at 3-under 207 by Matt Hendrix, who shot a bogey-free, 2-under 68.
"Obviously the course is still winning," said Loar. "It's a pretty tough golf course and I did a good job by hitting a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. I did make a couple of bogyes but other than that it was pretty good, pretty stress-free."
Loar hit wedges to inside of 15 feet and made early birdies at Nos. 3 and 5 to take command of the day.
"If do drive it in the fairway you are hitting a shorter club in," said the leader. "I hit a lot of nice iron shots and made a couple of putts. Other than that you just try to tap in for par."
Loar was cruising along nicely until he stepped on the gas on the back nine, rolling in an 8-foot birdie at No. 12, a 12-footer for par at No. 13 and then a 15-footer for birdie at No. 14. By then his lead up to five shots.
"I made some good putts there. You're not going to make them all," he said. "I took a couple of peeks at the leaderboard. I saw that Kevin Johnson had a heck of a round today. I played really good and shot 2-under. That run of birdies he had on the front, I don't know how he got close to those pins."
Loar's lead dropped to four on the final hole when his tee shot at the 465-yard hole wound up in an old divot in the right edge of the rough.
"I didn't hit a terrible shot but I didn't catch it clean," he said of his second shot, which came up short of the green.
"It's hard to hit the greens if you're driving it anywhere in the rough."
His pitch went eight feet by the cup and then he missed his par attempt.
"Weird things happen on the golf course so you're never really comfortable until the last putt's holed," said Loar, who is seeking his first win of consequence since taking the 2004 Korean Open on the Asian Tour.
Hicks will have the best seat to watch on Sunday, thanks to his birdie on No. 17 which put him in the final group.
"Ed's obviously playing some good golf out there," he said. "Three days of good golf on this course is really amazing but if you can put four together you've done a heck of a job. It will be interesting to see if he can keep going at the rate he is."
• Saturday's weather: Mostly sunny and windy. High of 92. Winds N 10-20 mph.
• The largest 54-hole lead in the tournament's eight-year history is five strokes by Fran Quinn in 2010. Quinn shot a 1-over-par 71 in the final round to finish at 15-under, two better than runner-up Brian Smock.
• The largest come-from-behind win in tournament history is five strokes by Miguel Carballo in 2007. Carballo was at 1-under 209 through 54 holes, shot a 5-under 65 and won by two strokes over Hunter Haas, Patrick Sheehan and Jim McGovern. Mathew Goggin came from four off the pace in the final round to win last year.
• This is the first time Edward Loar has held the 54-hole in his 40 career starts on the Nationwide Tour. His previous best standing after three rounds was T5 at the 2007 Utah EnergySolutions Championship, where he recorded the only top-10 finish of his career (T3).
• Edward Loar is trying to become the sixth left-handed winner in Nationwide Tour history:
• Rookie Shawn Stefani is making only third career start on Tour. He missed the cut at the 2011 Stadion Classic at UGA and opened this season with a missed cut at the Pacific Rubiales Bogota Open. In his only career start on the PGA TOUR, he missed the cut at the 2009 U.S. Open. Stefani (69-70-70) is at 1-under 209 and T9 heading into Sunday's final round.
• This is Kevin Johnson's seventh start in this tournament. He made the cut in three of his previous six starts with a T19 in 2009 his best finish. His previous best round here was 67 (twice).
• Kevin Johnson is making his 337th career start on the Nationwide Tour this week. His 63 today is the second-best score of his Tour career. Johnson posted a 62 in the opening round of the 1997 Permian Basin Open. He had never shot a 63 prior to today. He has shot 64 seven times in his career, most recently at the 2008 Ford Wayne Gretzky Classic in Canada.
* Kevin Johnson's 7-under 63 moved him into position to challenge for the tournament title on Sunday. His 3-under 207 total is tied for third. Johnson opened with rounds of 75-69 and made the 36-hole cut on the number (+4).
• There have been four players who have won on the Nationwide Tour after making the cut on the number. The last to do it was Justin Bolli at the 2004 Chattanooga Classie.
|Victorious in event after making the cut on the number|
• Three former champions were entered in the field this week and two made the cut:
• Ryan Armour owns the course record -- a 9-under 61 in the second round last year.
• Scoring averages for the week:
• The Nationwide Tour will head to Santiago, Chile for next week's inaugural Chile Classic presented by Pacific Rubiales at the Prince of Wales Country Club March 5-11.