Rookie Mackenzie Hughes of Canada played flawlessly for the first 46 holes in his fifth event as a PGA Tour member.
Then a wild drive led to a triple-bogey 7 on the 11th hole of the Seaside Course at Sea Island Resort on a breezy Saturday in Sea Island, Ga.
However, Mackenzie showed the moxie of an old pro by rebounding with three birdies down the stretch to shoot 2-under-par 68 and regain a one-stroke lead over Camilo Villegas of Colombia, Billy Horschel and Cheng Tsung Pan of Taiwan after three rounds of the RSM Classic.
“I was like, ‘This hole is never going to end,'” Hughes said of the 11th, where he took two shots to get out of a fairway bunker and then three-putted from 57 feet. “It finally did, and it worked out all right.
“It was nice to bounce back and to feel like I’m going (forward) way, not stepping back. … Everyone will be fighting the same nerves (on Sunday).”
The 25-year-old Mackenzie, whose two pro victories came in the 2013 Cape Breton Celtic Classic on the PGA Tour Canada and the 2016 Price Cutter Charity Championship on the Web.com Tour, has a 54-hole total of 16-under 196. He has been in or near the lead since opening with a 61.
Villegas, who has won four times on the PGA Tour, birdied the last four holes in a 66, while Horschel had a bogey-free 65 and Pan, another rookie, had four birdies on the back nine in a 67.
“It definitely played a lot tougher out there with the wind,” said Villegas, who has struggled since winning the 2014 Wyndham Championship. “I made a double bogey (on the third hole), but I composed myself and that birdie on No. 5 got me going again.
“Those four birdies in a row at the finish were nice, especially the one at 17. It was a tricky, fast putt. I’m happy with the way I played and have to do the same thing tomorrow.”
Said Horschel, the 2014 FedExCup champion: “I’m hitting the ball so good, the best I have in 18 months. I’ve played this course a lot and I know when to be aggressive and when to be smart.
“I hit the ball to spots on the greens where I had chance to make birdies or easy pars. I really didn’t have to scramble.”
Chesson Hadley carded only one bogey in a 67 and is two shots back in solo fifth, while Patrick Rodgers holed a 36-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole in a second straight 65 and is three back in a tie for sixth with Charles Howell III, who totaled 67, and Blayne Barber, who came in at 68.
Stewart Cink, who won the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, posted a 67 and was another stroke down in a tie for ninth with Ollie Schneiderjans and Henrik Norlander of Sweden, who both shot 66.
Jim Furyk, the 2003 U.S. Open champ, carded a 68 and was five behind in a tie for 12th with Bill Haas (66), Jim Herman (66), Morgan Hoffman (65), Luke List (68), Jason Kokrak (69) and Chad Campbell (70).
–Story Courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre