BROUSSARD — When the conditions are as favorable as they were Saturday, players looking for success in the Chitimacha Louisiana Open are wise to attack — especially on the front nine.
Edward Loar, Troy Merritt and Morgan Hoffmann heeded that advice, combining to shoot 14-under par on Le Triomphe Golf & Country Club’s first nine holes Saturday, and because of that they stand 1-2-3 entering Sunday’s final round of the $550,000 Web.com Tour event.
Loar finished off a 7-under par 64 with a birdie on the 18th hole, giving him a 15-under par 198 score and a one-stroke lead over Merritt.
Merritt posted his second straight 66, while Hoffman blazed to a 9-under 62 — tying for low round of the day — and is one stroke back at 13-under 200. Four other players are at 12-under 201.
“I saw the flags were pretty limp and knew some guys were making birdies,” said Loar, who started the day three shots back of halfway leader Darron Stiles. “I know the opportunities were there, and luckily I was able to capitalize on them. I birdied the holes I should have.”
He had eight of those, and that wasn’t even close to the day’s best total. Patrick Sheehan put up 10 birdies on his way to joining Hoffman at 9-under 62, with that mark tying for the third-best at the Open since the renovation.
“I knew there were a lot of birdies out there,” said Merritt, who was two out of the lead before birdieing five of his first six holes Saturday. “It’s been a logjam the last few days, so the goal today was getting as many birdies as I could and hopefully separate myself a little bit from the field.”
There is separation, but not much after nine players carded 64 or better in the third round. Even with the solo first, second and third places with 18 holes to go, 17 players will be within five shots of the lead when play begins at 7:55 a.m. Sunday.
“Par’s going to be a good score tomorrow,” said Merritt. “I know it’s going to be blowing pretty hard.”
Loar, who played most of 2012 on the PGA Tour, but won the Panama Claro Championship in one of his nine Web.com Tour starts last year, is atop the leaderboard after 54 holes for the second time this season. He shared the third-round lead at the Tour’s last stop, the Chile Classic, two weeks ago, on the way to finishing tied for second.
“On this tour, you better stay aggressive and you better keep making birdies,” he said. “I play aggressive by nature. I played the front nine good all week (he is 14-under on the front side through three rounds), and at the start there was very little wind and great scoring conditions.”
Loar had two-putt birdies on all three par-fives on the front Saturday, along with 20-foot birdie putts on the par-four fourth and the par-three sixth. He then added 15-foot and 12-foot birdie putts on the 14th and 18th holes — the two toughest holes on the course Saturday.
His 18th-hole birdie gave him the outright lead, after Merritt had given up the top spot with a bogey on the par-three 16th hole. Merritt was 13-under for the tournament and in first place after his early birdie-fest, but he played the final 12 holes in only one-under and the last six in one-over.
“I finally started making some birdie putts,” said Merritt, a two-year PGA Tour veteran and in his third year on the Web.com Tour including a win in Mexico in 2009. “On the back nine, I had a lot of good looks and couldn’t get them to drop. But it was nice to make par on the last hole and get in that last group tomorrow.”
Hoffmann made a run at the tournament record (11-under 60 by Brenden Pappas in the opening round in 2007) and beat his previous professional low round by two (he had a 62 while at Oklahoma State) with a card that included 16 greens in regulation and only 26 putts. He also birdied five of the first six holes on the front side, but it was his first nine on the back side that paved the way to 9-under.
Monday qualifier Blayne Barber posted a 6-under 65 and joined a threesome that all shot 64 on Saturday — Shane Bertsch, Richard S. Johnson and Jim Renner — in a four-way tie for fourth. Six more are one shot back and tied for eighth, with that group including Sheehan — who had six birdies on the back side — second-round co-leader Stiles and former LSU All-American and 2011 NCAA champion John Peterson.
Peterson had a 4-under 31 on the more-difficult back side in bouncing back from a 1-over 72 Friday. He had opened with a 65 and matched that score Saturday in also hitting 16 greens.
“I didn’t really have a number in mind,” said Peterson, who tied for fourth at the U.S. Open last year. “I just wanted to play solid and I did that. I just have to do it again tomorrow.”
Stiles, who opened at 67-64 to share the midway lead with Arjun Atwal, was still within a stroke before double-bogeying the 14th hole and bogeying the 15th.
“I had a couple of errant tee shots on the back nine,” Stiles said, “and the three-putt on 14 got me going the wrong direction. From there on, it was just a struggle to get in.”
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