NAPA, Calif. – Brendan Steele sat on the stage here in the Silverado Country Club ballroom and dismissed the idea of anyone going low and stealing this Frys.com Open.
The greens were too small. Too firm. Too tricky.
So much for that.
Steele stayed out front for the third day in a row, but the tournament became decidedly more wide open Saturday after he failed to take advantage of the easy closing stretch and nine players shot 66 or better. Steele still leads by one at 14-under 202.
No one went lower in the third round than Andrew Loupe, who only three weeks ago earned status for this PGA Tour season. His 63 matched the tournament course record, tied Steele’s low round of the week and propelled him within a stroke of the lead heading into the final round.
“Just keep the pedal to the metal,” Loupe said.
“That was a great round,” Steele added, shaking his head. “I didn’t see it, actually.”
With cooler temperatures and morning cloud cover, the course proved far more receptive in the third round; the scoring average Saturday was 69.9, easily the lowest of the week.
“The course was there for the taking today,” said Kevin Na, who made six birdies and an eagle to surge into a share of second place.
Steele managed four birdies of his own, but he left the door open for his pursuers by failing to birdie the last three holes – two reachable par 5s, and the short 17th – for the second day in a row.
Ten players are now within two shots of the lead, including world No. 7 Justin Rose.
“It’s not that frustrating,” Steele said. “Whether it’s at the end or the start, you just have to deal with it.”
But every little bit helps for a player who has only seven career top-five finishes and last season was ranked 139th (71.26) in final-round scoring average.
Steele’s lone title came at the 2011 Texas Open, during his first full season on Tour. It was the first time he was even in contention, and he closed with 11 consecutive pars on a brutal day.
On the final green, he had 7 feet for par and the win.
“I just said, You know what? Hit it as solid as you can on the best line that you can and do not be afraid to give it a little speed,” he said. “I just didn’t want it to be weak and around the hole, because you don’t get those opportunities that often. You just have to grab ’em when you do get ’em.”
Several players will be grappling with those foreign emotions Sunday. Of the top 16 on the leaderboard, only six have won a Tour event, and only two have multiple titles (Jason Bohn, Rose).
“Sundays are always tough,” Steele said. “That’s where character comes out.”