LA QUINTA, Calif. --- Gary Woodland played basketball for a season at Division II Washburn University, and the 6-foot guard still describes a 30-point loss to his beloved Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse as the biggest thrill of his life.
If he keeps hitting his shots at the Bob Hope Classic this weekend, Woodland might have an even bigger achievement in his backup athletic career.
Woodland shot 8-under-par 64 on Friday to join Jhonattan Vegas in the lead after three rounds in the 90-hole tournament on four Palm Springs-area courses.
Woodland made five consecutive birdies on the front nine at the Nicklaus Private course, with only a missed 10-foot putt keeping him from stringing together seven in a row. He added three birdies on the back nine to claim his first lead after any round in 28 PGA Tour events while putting up the best 54-hole score of his career.
Not bad for a guy who didn't get serious about golf until putting his hoop dreams to rest.
"I learned how to play the game over the last year and a half," Woodland said. "I've got great people around me, great people mentoring me, and I'm starting to get there. I'm not anywhere close to where I want to be, but I'm on that road right now."
After a year at Washburn, the Kansas native transferred to Kansas in 2003 to get serious about golf. But as a multisport athlete growing up, he embraced the grip-it-and-rip-it school of golf until learning how to harness his athleticism on tour.
"There's a lot of guys out here that know how to play this game," Woodland said. "I could probably beat them on the basketball court, but out here, for a year and a half, I was getting my butt kicked. ... There's so much up-and-down in other sports. You're never going to win all the time, so I learned how to play through adversity."
Woodland still hasn't fully recovered from surgery during his rookie season in August 2009 to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, a product of cumulative wear dating to his basketball days. He used cortisone to keep playing through the pain until his doctors "told me I couldn't have it any more."
He still doesn't have the strength he remembers, but he's no longer playing in pain -- and he has more than enough oomph to overpower the shorter courses at the Hope Classic.
Vegas also maintained his steady play in his fifth PGA Tour event with 67 -- the first bogey-free round of his career -- on the Silver Rock course, keeping a share of the lead for the second straight day.
Woodland and Vegas are the same age (26) with the same Nationwide Tour background, and they have similarly ferocious power off the tee. They're among the longest hitters in the Hope field, yet Woodland barely touched his driver on the friendly Nicklaus course while carding the best round of his career in relation to par.
Australia's Greg Chalmers (65) was a stroke back at 17-under 199, while Scotland's Martin Laird was 16 under after a bogey-free 64. Sixteen players were within five shots of the lead, including Matt Kuchar (13-under after 67) and second-round co-leader Boo Weekley, also 13 under after 72 at Silver Rock.
Justin Leonard, the 2005 Hope champion, made six straight birdies while shooting a 64 on the Nicklaus Private course to get back in contention at 12-under.