VERONA, N.Y. -- Alex Cejka began Saturday's third round of the Turning Stone Resort Championship alone on top of the leader board. Despite spending most of the rest of the day looking up at a bunch of other players, a burst over the closing stretch of holes kept him as the man to beat entering the final round.
Cejka stayed patient before birdieing the final three holes at Atunyote Golf Club to put him at 15-under, two shots in front of Chris Couch heading into Sunday.
"I like it out here. The course suits my eye, suits my game, and you know, I had a strong finish," Cejka said. "I'm very pleased to be in that position."
For Cejka, who has never won a PGA Tour event, this situation is rare, but not entirely unfamiliar. Both prior occurrences were during big-time events and neither ended well. In 2001, he was a co-leader at the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes before shooting a 73 to finish T-13. And in last year's Players Championship, he took a five-shot lead into the final round before a 79 left him T-9.
"I think in the past I was struggling a little bit with the putter the first couple holes when I had the lead, and suddenly the lead was gone after three, four holes because you know, you make one bad shot, you make a three-putt and suddenly someone makes a birdie and you're not in the lead already," said Cejka, who does have 11 international wins. "I hope I learned something out of it in the past and it will show tomorrow."
Couch was one of several players to take advantage of ideal scoring conditions following a gusty Friday. His bogey-free 63 equaled the best of his PGA Tour career and tied the course record, which was also tied earlier in the day by Charles Warren.
"Yesterday I think I got a little wind blown out there, but today was a beautiful day, nice degrees out, and the course is in perfect shape," said Couch, whose lone Tour win came at the 2006 Zurich Classic of New Orleans. "So it's there for the taking."
After making Friday's cut on the number, Warren will tee off in the second-to-last group with Billy Mayfair, who shot 66 Saturday to get to solo third place at 12 under.
Chris Tidland, playing beside Cejka, had it to 13-under with four to play, but a bogey on 15 and a double bogey on 17 set the two-time Nationwide Tour winner back. He is four shots back in a tie for fourth place with Warren, Robert Garrigus and Bill Lunde, who shot 64.
First-round co-leader Rory Sabbatini also had an up-and-down day. He too got into a share of the lead at 13 under on the back nine, before back-to-back bogies on 14 and 15. Sabbatini then three-putted the very accessible par-5 18th for a disappointing bogey that put him five shots off the pace.
Cejka three-putted the second hole for bogey, but nearly holed his approach shot on the par-4 fourth to get things going. He birdied two par fives to climb to 12-under before making his late push, which started with a six-iron to seven feet on the 177-yard, par-3 16th. He then stuffed a 9-iron to three feet behind the hole on the difficult, 479-yard, par-4 17th and then reached the closing par five in two for an easy two-putt birdie.
But while Cejka likes his position, he knows he still has work to do if he's going to finally get that elusive first PGA Tour victory.
"It's still a long way to go, 18 holes, especially with this kind of course where somebody who's 10-under who can shoot a 9-under or 10-under," Cejka said. "What we've seen over the last couple weeks that somebody shoots a 59 or 60. It's possible. It's doable."
-- Alex Myers
(Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images)