SAN ANTONIO — PGA Tour rookie Brendan Steele birdied Nos. 17 and 18 for a 4-under 68 on Saturday, grabbing sole possession of the Texas Open lead after beginning the day tied with a whopping six other players for the top spot.
The 28-year-old Californian put his third shot within 15 feet on the par-5 18th, then sunk the putt for his sixth birdie — offsetting a pair of bogeys.
"I decided to play it a little more conservative and laid it up, and it paid off," Steele said of the birdie to end his round.
That late surge was enough for a one-stroke lead over another up-and-commer, second-year PGA Tour pro Cameron Tringale, who led by two after 16 holes but hooked his tie shot on No. 18 into the deep rough — almost reaching a creek. He recovered on the approach, only to miss a 13-foot putt and settle for a 4-under 68.
"I drove it left. I figured if I hit a good drive ... I'd be able to look at it in two, so I just swung hard," said Tringale, who played at Georgia Tech and now lives in Las Vegas.
"I laid up to a pretty good yardage and then just misjudged the wind, really," he said. "Came up short, which was a bad mistake, given all the room behind the hole."
Third-round winds were calmer but still blew to nearly 30 mph at times, after strong gusts Friday saw the field struggle to a second-round scoring average of 75.289, the highest on Tour since the first-round of the 2008 British Open.
Strong winds are forecast once again during Sunday's final round.
"There's going to be good shots that don't end up good and bad shots that end up worse," Steele said.
Another rookie and Californian, Kevin Chappell (70) and 30-year-old Brandt Snedeker (70) were tied for third at 5 under. Steele, Tringale and Chappell, who led UCLA to an NCAA title in 2008, have just a combined 62 starts on tour, while Snedeker's only PGA Tour victory came at the 2007 Wyndham Championship.
"There's a lot of younger players getting on Tour quicker now than there ever has been and I think that's really been the difference," Tringale said. He added that he is still new enough on tour that almost no one pronounces Tringale (Tren-gal-EE) correctly, instead calling him "Triangle" ''Trin-gle" ''Trin-nail" ''Tri-nail" and a host of other names.
Steele said he's never felt so much pressure on Tour as he will teeing off tomorrow with the lead.
"I definitely haven't been in this position," he said, adding that a win at the 7,435-yard TPC San Antonio "would validate a lot of things in my career as far being a guy that's just trying to feel his way out here right now as a rookie."
Steele began his round tied for first at 3 under with Chappell, Snedeker, Geoff Ogilvy, Rich Beem, Kevin Sutherland and Charley Hoffman. The seven-way tie was the most crowded leaderboard on the PGA tour in a decade. Seven players tied after 36 holes hadn't been seen on the tour since the 1977 Westchester. The record was an eight-way tie at the 2001 Greater Hartford Open.
Tied for fifth at 4 under after three rounds were Augusta, Georgia-native Charles Howell III, who had four straight birdies on the back nine to complement a birdie and a bogey on the front.
"You've got a drivable green on 14 that you can get home in two on, so there are some opportunities out here. But I think the play on this golf course is, keep the ball in play and take it when you can get it," Howell said. "It's easy to get in trouble too."
Even with Howell at 4 under was defending Texas Open champion Adam Scott (70) and Pat Perez who tied the mark for Saturday's best round with a 5-under 67 at a tournament whose motto is "Unapologetically Texan."
Souvenirs included white sticks stenciled with the phrase "Quiet, Y'all" and fashioned to look like the more-serious ones reading simply "Quiet" that course officials held up to silence the crowds of spectators before shots.
The Phoenix-born Perez had an Eagle 2 on No. 5, knocking his tee shot on the green and converting a 25-foot putt to complement four birdies and a bogey on the day.
Also shooting 5 under was Sweden-born Fredrik Jacobson, who finished second to Scott here last year, and had seven birdies to offset a pair of bogeys and move to 2 under, tied for tenth.