With a handful of Kiwis nipping at his heels, Steve Friesen will attempt to become the third American in a row to win the NZ PGA Championship as he takes a one-stroke lead into the final round at Clearwater. On a windy Christchurch day where a number of players threatened the lead then fell by the wayside, Friesen held firm to reach 11-under 205 for the tournament. Beginning the day one stroke behind a trio of overnight leaders, the Nebraska native birdied his opening three holes, turned in three-under 33 and was steadily home in 36 for a three-under 69. “I like the course – it&aposs pretty similar to the courses I grew up on. It feels like the mid-west in America,” Friesen said of his first visit to Clearwater. In his first full year on the second-tier US Nationwide Tour, he predicted he would be nervous on Sunday – &aposit&aposs a huge opportunity&apos – but had an approach figured out to combat a possible sleepless night. “I&aposll have maybe one beer and that&aposll probably knock me out and I&aposll be ready to go.” Kiwi Gareth Paddison, Aussie Kurt Barnes and American Josh Teater teed off in the final group in top spot on Saturday but only Barnes managed to avoid an over-par round. That allowed Steve Alker to burst up the field into second alongside Barnes with a five-under 67 – the lowest score of the day along with Australian David McKenzie. The diminutive Alker hit 16 of 18 greens in making three birdies and an eagle two at the 6th where he holed a four-iron from around 160m. “It&aposs not every day you hole a four-iron from the fairway. It was kind of nice,” Alker said in understated fashion. “I played conservatively but I played aggressively when I needed to. It was definitely a different golf course and I guess the leaders haven&apost moved too much today so it shows that it&aposs a different beast.” Alker is attempting to become the first New Zealander to win the NZ PGA title since its reinvention at Clearwater in 2004, while also hoping to break a 22-year drought since Frank Nobilo claimed his second title in 1987. He will have plenty of local company on Sunday as last year&aposs runner-up David Smail and amateur star Danny Lee are tied for third at nine-under, with Josh Geary at eight-under and Richard Lee a shot further back. Smail posted a 68 on Saturday and world No.1 amateur Lee a 69, inhabiting a group of five in equal fourth along with Aussie Stephen Dartnall (68), Ryan Hietala (69), and Craig Bowden (70). Lee, of the 18-year-old Johnnie Walker Classic winner variety, could have found himself atop a professional leaderboard again had he not bogeyed the 17th and missed an eight-footer for birdie at the 18th.
Author: Dean Wedlake at Clearwater, Sportal