If anyone thought Ben Martin was going to run away from the field after two record-setting rounds in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Seung-Yul Noh and Keegan Bradley certainly weren’t among them.
Noh and Bradley and at least five more players had other ideas in Saturday’s third round at sun-splashed TPC Louisiana.
Starting four shots behind Martin, who fired a course-record 62 on Thursday and followed it with a 67 Friday, Noh carded a 7-under-par 65 for the second time in three days to take a two-shot lead into Sunday’s final round.
Noh, a 22-year-old South Korean, got into position to secure his first PGA Tour win with a 54-hole score of 18-under 198. Bradley, the winner of the 2011 PGA Championship, also shot a 65 to go with scores of 69 and 66 on Thursday and Friday and was in with a 16-under 200.
After playing in the Shell Houston Open earlier this month, Noh went home and took a couple of weeks off. It paid off with three bogey-free rounds — the only player in the tournament to not give back a shot.
“I feel pretty happy and mentally very clean now,” said Noh, whose top finish in three seasons on the PGA Tour is a tie for fourth at the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. “I came back this week to restart the season and have been playing perfectly for three days.”
He wasn’t the only one Saturday.
With players finding the conditions ideal for scoring for the third day in a row, Robert Streb shot a 68 to move into third at 201. Paul Casey (64) and Jeff Overton (67) were another shot back at 202 with Martin and Andrew Svoboda.
Martin held a three-shot lead on Svoboda going into the third round, known as “moving day” on the PGA Tour. But both moved back with rounds of 73 and 70.
At one point Saturday afternoon, the top 15 players on the leaderboard were separated by just four strokes.
Martin, who carded 16 birdies and an eagle in the first two rounds, never got going Saturday and had just one birdie to go with two bogeys. Svoboda had four birdies and two bogeys.
“I only made one birdie today, which is not going to get it done out here,” said Martin, who was playing in the final group for the second Saturday in a row. “Too many putts.”
Martin needed 33 putts Saturday after having just 23 and 28 in his first two rounds.
Meanwhile, Noh had three birdie putts on the front nine. His 36-footer on the par-3 ninth hole gave him the lead for the first time over Martin.
After Bradley pulled even with Noh at 15-under with a birdie at No. 15, Noh surged back into the lead with three consecutive birdies starting at No. 14.
The big shot for Noh came at the par-4 16th, where he hit a 51-degree wedge from 112 yards to within a foot of the cup for a tap-in birdie.
Improved iron play, he said, has been the key to three bogey-free trips around the 7,425-yard layout. Being aggressive and taking dead aim at the flags Saturday, when the wind was down again, was the game plan.
“I still missed a few shots the first three days, but the iron shots were really, really nice,” Noh said. “That’s why I’m playing three bogey-free rounds, I made my birdie chances. I still missed a few putts but made a lot of putts.”
Bradley lowered his score for the third day in a row despite a bout with food poisoning just before starting the second round Friday. He started fast with birdies at Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 8 before giving a shot back at No. 9. Then he birdied the 11th, 13th and 15th holes — the latter giving him a share of the lead with Noh.
“I felt so great today from the (driving) range to the first tee to the last hole,” Bradley said. “I’m most proud this week of where I’ve been mentally on the golf course and how calm I’ve felt. So that’s a really good sign going into (Sunday).”