IRVING, Texas — Not even a boulder could keep Keegan Bradley from leading the HP Byron Nelson Championship for the third straight day. So we wonder:
Can he be stopped?
The 2011 champion shot a 2-under 68 on a windy Saturday at TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas. He enters the final round at 13-under 197, leading Sang-Moon Bae by one stroke. Tom Gillis is two strokes back; Scott Piercy trails by three.
In search of his fourth PGA Tour victory, Bradley has posted 19 birdies and one eagle through 54 holes.
Hearing that only two players have gone wire to wire at the Nelson — Mark Hayes in 1976 and Tom Watson in 1980 — hardly fazed Bradley, whose confidence level matches his game.
“Should be easier than having to come from behind,” he said. “I’m fine with it. I have felt comfortable out there, haven’t felt nervous. I put the time in. I feel like this is where I should be when I play well — near the lead or in the lead.”
Bradley won the Nelson with the TPC at its toughest. His winning score over the windswept layout was 3-under 277. He shot a final-round 68 and then beat Ryan Palmer on the first playoff hole. He followed with a T24 last year.
His course-record 60 in the opening round gave him a three-stroke lead. He maintained that margin with a 69 in tougher afternoon conditions on Friday.
On Saturday, he birdied No. 3, bogeyed 5 and 6, then birdied 7 and 9 to make the turn at 34. He came home with birdies on 11 and 16 and his third straight bogey on 18.
His drive on 18 just missed the water on the left fairway. With his ball coming to rest near a big rock, he chipped into the fairway and then almost drained his 27-foot putt to save par from just off the green. He was pumped with the bogey.
“I thought I made the putt, which would have been exciting,” he said. “But 5 on that hole from where I hit it off the tee is a pretty good score.”
Gillis pulled off a two-stroke swing on 18, holing his shot from the greenside bunker. The birdie compensated for his only bogey of the day, on 17.
“Make dinner taste better, that’s for sure,” the veteran said.
Gillis missed the cut in his previous five starts, but he is back on his game after reuniting with his swing coach and his old irons.
“There was an overwhelming amount of calmness that came over me when I realized that we were going to reunite and we had a plan,” Gillis said. “That calmed me down, because I was somewhat reeling for five, six, seven, eight — well, since the beginning of the year.”
Bradley’s pursuers include Piercy, who drained two 45-footers, at 10 under, and long-hitting Gary Woodland, Harris English, Jon Huh and Charl Schwartzel at 8 under.
Bae, in his second season on Tour, has only one top-10 this year, a T8 at the Northern Trust.
He has shot 66 each day. On Saturday, he hit only six fairways and 10 greens but needed just 26 putts. He had one-putts on Nos. 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 14, 15 and 16.
“The winds were strong out there, but I hit a bunch of putts,” said the Korean. “One shot behind Keegan, looking forward to tomorrow.”
The final round promises intrigue with even stronger winds. The forecast calls for south winds of 20-30 mph.
The tough conditions could work in Bradley’s favor.
“If I play well, it makes it harder for them to catch me,” he said. “But it’s the same for everybody.”