RENO, Nev. – Scott Piercy reeled off eight consecutive birdies to post a 28 on the front nine and eagled the 616-yard closing hole to break the course record with an 11-under 61 on Saturday, taking a two-stroke lead after three rounds of the Reno-Tahoe Open.
Piercy, winless in three years on the PGA Tour, enters the final round at 13-under 203, two ahead of Josh Teater and three ahead of a group that includes 1995 PGA champion Steve Elkington.
Elkington, who has 10 career victories but none since 1999, followed a 65 on Friday with a 68 to get to 10-under 206. He was tied for third with 2006 Reno champ Chris Riley, first-round leader Nick O’Hern, Pat Perez, John Merrick and Blake Adams. Two-time Reno winner Vaughn Taylor and 2007 champ Steve Flesch were at 9-under.
Piercy’s birdie barrage on the front matched both the longest such streak and lowest nine holes in relation to par posted on tour this season. He was one shy of the course record for nine holes set by Riley when he fired a 27 on what is now the back nine in 2008.
The 32-year-old Las Vegas native said he didn’t really think about shooting a 59, but knew he was one shy of the PGA record nine consecutive birdies Mark Calcavecchia had in the second round of the 2009 RBC Canadian Open.
“It was fun to see the ball go in the hole,” said Piercy, a two-time winner on the Nationwide Tour who currently is ranked 142nd on the PGA money list with $365,162 and has $2.2 million in career earnings.
Piercy said he was frustrated the first two rounds because he hit the ball well but couldn’t get putts to drop on the 7,472-yard mountain course at the Montreux Golf & Country Club on the edge of the Sierra.
“I told my caddie yesterday if I can keep hitting it well and get a few balls to go in the hole, we might do something special,” he said. “I didn’t think this, but I’ll take it when I can get it, you know?”
The San Diego State graduate began the day at 2-under - tied for 45th seven strokes off the lead.
Piercy parred No. 1 and then followed with eight straight birdies. The streak ended on the par-4 10th when he missed a 27-foot birdie putt. He followed with three more pars - missing a 10-footer for birdie on the par-5 13th.
“I wasn’t thinking 59,” he said. “If I would have made the birdie on 13 I might have thought about it a little more.”
Piercy followed with consecutive birdies then made his only bogey of the day on the difficult 464-yard, par-4 17th when he hit into the creek that runs through the fairway.
On the par-5 18th, he drove the ball 340 yards and then hit a 4-iron 275 yards to inside 7 feet before dropping the eagle putt for 61 - three better than his previous career best he last recorded at the 2010 Wyndham Championship.
Last year, Graham DeLaet became the most recent among six players to tie Montreux’s old course record of 62.
Teater won the Nationwide Tour’s Utah Championship in 2009 and has four top 10 finishes in his second year on the PGA Tour. The Kentucky native who shot a 66 Saturday said he’s looking forward to Sunday’s finale.
“It’s going to be a shootout and we’re all going to try to birdie every hole,” Teater said.
Elkington, 48, last won at the Doral Ryder Open in 1999. He said he’s had an “up and down year” but always enjoys making the trip to the Montreux about 20 miles from Lake Tahoe.
“The wind was very tricky so I was very pleased with 4-under,” Elkington said. “I think it will be a great final round… I bring the family and we stay at Lake Tahoe. The golf is a bonus this week for sure.”
Perez, who has three top 10s this year and is 80th on the money list, had four birdies and an eagle for a 29 on the back nine.
“I played like that actually all three days and I finally just put together the nine holes,” Perez said.
Piercy’s consecutive birdies equaled Chris Stroud’s streak from Nos. 9-16 in the second round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico in February. His 8-under 28 on the par-36 front nine ties the 28 Nick Watney had in the final round of the Farmers Insurance Open in January. Watney also had an 8-under 27 on the par-35 back nine in the third round of the AT&T National in July.