July 7 (Reuters) - Big-hitting American Harold Varner III shot a bogey-free third round 66 to jump into a shared lead with overnight leader Kelly Kraft at 14-under par at Greenbrier on Saturday with several players lurking in the wings.
Varner sank all four of his birdies on the back nine to take advantage of late stumbles by Kraft, whose bogeys on 16 and 18 caused his outright lead to evaporate under the sunny skies at the Old White TPC in White Sulphur Springs.
Both men are seeking their first career wins on the PGA Tour but neither are likely to rest easy ahead of Sunday’s final round with defending champion Xander Schauffele and the hot-putting Kevin Na trailing them by just one stroke.
Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, sits two strokes back in fifth place while world number 12 Bubba Watson fired a 65 to climb the leaderboard and into a three-way tie for sixth with Joel Dahmen and India’s Anirban Lahiri.
Five-time major champion Phil Mickelson shot an even par round of 70 to claim a share of 38th place at five-under par.
A relaxed Varner, who won the Australian PGA Championship in 2016, said he was just trying to enjoy himself and not worry too much about the stakes.
“Mentally I think I’m just excited to play golf,” he told the Golf Channel.
“A lot of people would die to be in our position. I’m not trying to play prefect golf, I’m just trying to see targets and have fun with it.”
Despite his laid back attitude, he said winning his first PGA Tour event was still very much his focus.
“That would be awesome. It’s what we play for,” he said.
Kraft was rolling early, shooting even par through the first nine holes before bagging birdies on 10, 11 and 12 to stretch his lead.
His spectacular third shot from the rough on the par-four 11th, which he pitched in from 40 feet out, drew the biggest response of the day from the West Virginia crowd.
But the pressure seemed to get to the 29-year-old at the end of his round and he found bunkers on 16, 17 and 18 and appeared to tense up.
A misread short putt on 18 led to a bogey and dropped him into a tie for the lead with Varner heading into Sunday’s round.
Reporting by Rory Carrolll; Editing by Greg Stutchbury