LA QUINTA, Calif. — Last year, Scott Stallings left the Humana Challenge early after a funny conversation that probably made his aching ribs hurt even more.
“I played La Quinta for one round and I played with Carl Pettersson and, after nine holes, he said, ‘Either you’re going to withdraw or I’m going to withdraw. I can’t watch this anymore,’” said Stallings, forced to withdraw after tearing cartilage around five ribs.
This year, Stallings is in position to run away with his third PGA Tour title after opening a five-stroke lead Saturday. He shot 9-under 63 at PGA West’s Jack Nicklaus course to reach 22-under 194 after three days in perfect conditions in the Coachella Valley.
“I stayed aggressive,” Stallings said. “Playing with John (Rollins) was a huge help. He’s a good guy and he was an easy guy to club off of. … We made a lot of birdies the last couple days, and so we kind of fed off each other.”
Stallings made two eagles, hitting a 6-iron to 8 feet on the par-5 13th early in the round and holing a 20-foot downhill putt on the par-5 eighth.
“I guess you can say it’s conservatively aggressive,” Stallings said. “Like No. 8, I hit a really good drive and had 8-iron. But just because I had 8-iron to a par 5, I fired it in the middle of the green, had a 20-footer and was happy to make it.”
He had his third straight bogey-free round, putting him in position to become the first tournament winner to play 72 holes without a bogey since Lee Trevino in the 1974 Greater New Orleans Open. The 27-year-old opened with 66 on the Arnold Palmer course – the site of the final round Sunday – and shot 65 on Friday at La Quinta.
“I’ve been smart when I got out of position,” said Stallings, the True South Classic champion last year after winning the 2011 Greenbrier Classic.
Rollins had a 64 to move into a tie for second with Augusta native Charles Howell, Stewart Cink, Roberto Castro and Charley Hoffman.
“We had a good group and the mojo in the group has been positive,” Rollins said. “It was great to see a lot of good shots, putts going in.”
Cink had 66 on the Nicklaus course to get into the final threesome with Stallings and Castro.
“The weather’s just so perfect out there,” said Cink, winless since his playoff victory over Tom Watson in the 2009 British Open. “There really is no way to improve the conditions that you’re playing under out there. It’s the very best it could possibly be.”
Castro shot 69 at La Quinta, Howell had 67 on the Palmer course, and Hoffman had 67 at La Quinta. Castro had a share of the lead after each of the first two rounds.
“I got a little out of rhythm on the back, but still hit enough good shots to feel good about it,” Castro said.
Brian Stuard missed a chance to become the sixth player in PGA Tour history to shoot 59, settling for 62 on the Nicklaus course.
EUROPEAN TOUR: In Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Justin Rose extended his lead at the Abu Dhabi Championship, shooting 4-under-par 68 to take a two-shot lead over Jamie Donaldson and Thorbjorn Olesen.
A day after top-ranked Rory McIlroy and second-ranked Tiger Woods missed the cut, the fifth-ranked Rose made his third round look easy.
After three-putting on the first for a bogey, Rose had a stretch of six birdies over nine holes – including an approach shot on No. 9 that rolled to 4 feet from the hole for birdie. He nearly chipped in on No. 18 and settled for another birdie.
Olesen (69) and Donaldson (69) struggled to make putts early but finished with birdies to close the gap. Thongchai Jaidee (66) finished with two birdies to move into fourth, three shots behind Rose.
MITSUBISHI CHAMPIONSHIP: In Ka’upulehu-Kona, Hawaii, South Africa’s David Frost shot his second consecutive 65 to take a two-shot lead in the season-opening Champions Tour event.
Frost is at 14-under 130 at Hualalai Golf Course.
John Cook (66) is second and Kirk Triplett (68) is third, four shots behind Frost.