- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2011

A day after taking a record-setting seven-stroke lead after two rounds of play, Steve Wheatcroft increased his lead to eight strokes by shooting 6-under 65 on Saturday, leaving the rest of the field with no goal for Sunday except to put together a solid fourth round.

Wheatcroft’s score sits at 22-under 191 after three rounds, and he has all but guaranteed himself first place at the Melwood Prince George’s County Open. His eight-shot lead after 54 holes is a Nationwide Tour record, and his score is just one stroke shy of the Tour record.

Despite the big lead, he won’t let himself relax until he has officially won.

“I looked at the scoreboard all day today,” Wheatcroft said after the third round ended. “I looked at it last night, this morning, first tee, third green. It didn’t matter. I was looking around. I’ve always been a scoreboard watcher.”

The best round of Saturday belonged to Carshalton, England native Gary Christian, who shot a 9-under 62 to move into second place at the time. When play concluded Saturday, Christian was tied with for seventh place, 12 shots behind Wheatcroft and just four behind Nicholas Thompson for second.

“All professional athletes try to get to the zone. That is, what I would say, probably what I got in today,” Christian said. “It was just easy. Everything flowed. You pick out a spot and work a shot to hit it there and it would go there, and you pick a spot in the green and you would roll it over and it would go in.”

While he does not expect to challenge Wheatcroft for first place, Christian hopes to put together another strong round to move up the leaderboard.

“The main thing is that I got myself into position,” Christian said. “I was fortunate enough, the win I had a couple of years ago, I was quite a way behind and shot 63, 64 over the weekend and won the tournament. I know I can shoot two good rounds, and hopefully this weekend will be another good chance for that.”

The tournament Christian referred to was the 2009 Northeast Pennsylvania Classic. He was tied with Mathias Gronberg at the conclusion of the fourth round and had to play the final hole nine extra times, tying the longest playoff in Nationwide Tour history, for the victory.

Christian didn’t make a birdie on the first three holes Saturday, but his fortunes improved when he made a 20-foot putt for eagle on No. 4. He went on to shoot birdies in five of his next six holes.

Thompson also played a strong third round, moving into second place by shooting a 7-under 64 with nine bogies. When asked how he felt about playing alongside Wheatcroft on Sunday, he offered a very practical response.

“It’s better than playing in the group in front of him,” Thompson said. “You get to see what he’s doing. It’s always nice to play with the leader. I’m going to go out there, and I’m not going to worry about what he does. Obviously, [Wheatcroft] is playing really good golf. I’m just going to go out and play my own game, try to make as many birdies as I can and shoot as low as I can.”

Although his closest competition has conceded victory, Wheatcroft is not overconfident.

“I’m going to come out tomorrow and do the exact same thing, and if I look up at the scoreboard after nine and I need to throw it on the gas even more than what I’m probably going to be doing, I’ll do it,” he said. But I have a feeling I’ll have my foot down pretty hard on the gas to begin with.”

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