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Coming down the stretch at the Nelson

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IRVING, Texas – There’s an old story about Byron Nelson which pretty much tells everything you need to know about the man’s character.

When he would arrive at an unfamiliar track, Nelson would inquire as to the course record and who owned it. That may sound like an arrogant maneuver, but it was actually quite the opposite. Instead, he always wanted to be careful not to break the record of a club pro or local member, so that they may keep their own legacy intact.

For one of the most dominant golfers of his – or any other – era, that wasn’t an easy proposition.

Nelson’s numbers are the stuff of legend. He won 52 career PGA Tour titles – good for sixth all-time – and in 1945 he posted 18 wins, including 11 straight at one point.

Let the records show that in the third round of his eponymous tournament on Saturday, there weren’t any competitors on the verge of pulling a Byron. Which is to say, the course record wasn’t under threat of being surpassed and individual dominance was the furthest thing from anybody’s mind.

On a warm, blustery Texas afternoon, Moving Day looked more like a nine-car pileup on the interstate, with nine different players holding at least a share of the lead throughout the day. Their names read like a combination of “who’s who” and “who’s that” amongst the game’s elite: Jonas Blixt, Keegan Bradley, Jason Day, Jason Dufner, J.J. Henry, Matt Kuchar, Marc Leishman, Dicky Pride and Vijay Singh.

When the dust settled and play was concluded, it was Dufner who owned a one-stroke advantage over Day, Henry and Pride, but there remains 16 players within four shots of the lead.

It’s a role with which Dufner is feeling an increased comfort level.

The 35-year-old is becoming accustomed to playing the role of front-runner. He was 54-hole leader at last year’s PGA Championship and 36-hole co-leader at this year’s Masters before finally winning for the first time after owning the 54-hole lead at last month’s Zurich Classic.

“I feel pretty good with it,” he explained. “Last time in New Orleans was back and forth with Ernie [Els]; this week it's going to be the same thing. There are a lot of guys around the lead. I feel good with where my game is at, what I'm doing out there, getting more comfortable playing in final groups and getting more comfortable trying to win these tournaments. I think the more you do it the more comfortable you're going to be, and the more successful you are, it's going to carry over.”

Dufner may own the lead, but with nasty crosswinds expected to blow through the TPC Four Seasons venue once again on Sunday, the tournament still owns an “anybody’s ballgame” type of feel.

“It's going to be tough [Sunday],” Day said. “There are a lot of great golfers up there, and it's going to be tough to win this tournament. The guy that obviously makes the least amount of mistakes out there tomorrow is going to win. That's just how things are going to go.”

“So many want to make drama about it, but it all comes down to just keep playing golf,” Pride added. “If I wasn't here at the HP Byron Nelson Championship, I would be at the Nationwide Tour playing golf. Or at home. Just playing golf. All those cliches that no one wants to hear, but you’ve got to play. It's a heck of a challenge, but that's the idea.”

After Pride walked off the course following a third-round 67 that left him in contention for his first title in nearly 18 years, he hugged Peggy Nelson, widow of Byron, and exclaimed, “I’m still here!”

On a day when course records were far from the forefront of anyone’s thoughts and a week where nobody is producing Nelson-like domination, it’s a proclamation that many contenders can claim entering Sunday’s final round. By day’s end, though, that thought process will belong to just one.

Whether it’s a “who’s who” or a “who’s that” is an answer that for now remains blowin’ in these Texas winds.