SILVIS, Ill. — Sebastian Munoz tried to imagine what Saturday at the John Deere Classic would have felt like without electronic scoreboards around the golf course.
It would have created a lot less stress. In rain-softened conditions at the TPC Deere Run, everyone knew that making birdies was the only way to stay in the game.
Once the rain cleared and Munoz no longer had to deal with keeping clubs dry and umbrella open, the Colombian ran off three birdies that gave him a 4-under 67 and a one-shot lead going into the final round.
“It’s huge,” said Munoz, who was at 16-under 197. “Every shot counts, and having every extra one for tomorrow might help me out a lot.”
Even so, there’s reason to feel as though the 50th edition of this tournament is just getting started with 10 players separated by three shots.
Brandon Hagy, still looking for his first PGA Tour victory in his 93rd career start, also had a 67 and was one shot behind.
“Definitely within my grasp,” Hagy said. “I feel like I can hit all the shots that’s necessary to get me over the top. But the key is all these guys here can hit those shots, you just have to stay within yourself, and a few bounces here and there go your way, and we’ll see what happens.”
Five players were two shots behind, a group that included Scott Brown, who had a 63 to match the low score of the round. Adam Long (64), Cameron Champ (64), Kevin Na (66) and Ryan Moore (68) joined him at 14-under 199.
“The beauty of this place is it ain’t over until it’s legitimately over,” said Zach Johnson, a past Deere winner who had a 67. He was six shots behind.
Five of the last six winners of the John Deere Classic finished at 20 under or better, the exception being Bryson DeChambeau four years ago when he captured his first PGA Tour title at a paltry 18 under.
Luke List is among those within three shots of the lead despite his struggles. List began the weekend with a one-shot lead. He didn’t make a birdie until the 10th hole, and when he missed a 6-foot birdie attempt on the final hole, he had to settle for a 71.
Even so, he still has a chance at his first PGA Tour title.
Of the 20 players within five shots of the lead, seven have never won on tour.
Five of the seven players within two shots of Munoz are not yet eligible for the British Open next week a Royal St. George’s in England. The leading player from among the top five gets in the final major of the year. Munoz already is eligible, while Na has withdrawn because of international travel requirements.
Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker, a three-time winner at the Deere who chose to help celebrate the tournament’s 50th anniversary instead of defending his title in the U.S. Senior Open, had a 68 and was seven shots behind. Stricker birdied his last three holes.
Munoz had two early birdies to take the lead, only to give those shots back with a pair of bogeys from the fairway. Those boards let him know he was falling behind.
“We could see on the leaderboard that people were going low, and you didn’t want to kind of fade,” Munoz said. “So it was really important to birdie 11, 13 and 16 coming in, so it was nice to be in the position I am right now.”
The timing is critical for some players beyond going after their first win. Players like Brown, Moore and Champ are well outside the top 125 in the FedEx Cup with only a month remaining before the PGA Tour postseason begins.
“At this point with my position in the FedEx Cup, I kind of need to win,” Brown said. “So it kind of frees me up in a way. I have one goal, and it’s to come in here and win.”