WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Harold Varner III, the 5-foot-8 golfer with a 10-feet-tall personality, wasn’t about to let anxiety take hold.
The third-round co-leader at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier wasn’t concerned about being winless in 84 PGA Tour events.
“This is what I get so pumped up to do. This is why you work,” the 27-year-old Varner said. “If I shoot 90 tomorrow, I’m going to be able to go home and my mom is going to give me a kiss and say, ‘You’re still a winner.’ I’m still going to mow my parents’ grass on Monday.”
The East Carolina graduate began Saturday with 10 consecutive pars until a stretch of four birdies in seven holes landed him at 14-under. When second-round leader Kelly Kraft subsequently bogeyed 16 and 18, the Greenbrier leaderboard featured a tie at the top.
Kraft and Varner, who opened the tournament as 125-to-1 longshots, are scheduled to tee off their final round at 1:55 p.m. Sunday
“This whole thing is new to me because I’ve never held a lead going into the last day, but I don’t really lack confidence,” Varner said. “I’m going to wake up tomorrow and give it all I’ve got.”
Defending champion Xander Schauffele was lurking one shot back after Saturday’s 65, which included a bunker chip for eagle on the par-5 17th.
“It was funny,” Schauffele said. “I got in an argument with my caddie on the fairway. He said, ‘Going long you’re screwed.’ So I had 3-wood, and he talked me into an iron. I still hit it over the green long, so we had a little laugh about that, and managed to hole bunker shot.”
Kevin Na’s 65 forged a third-place tie with Schauffele, and the grandson of Arnold Palmer, Sam Saunders (67), stood fifth at 12-under. Bubba Watson joined a three-way tie for sixth at 11-under.
After starting Saturday one stroke off the lead, Webb Simpson shot 76 and tumbled into 30th. Anirban Lahiri (71) bogeyed the first two holes but avoided Simpson’s plight and dropped only three strokes behind.
While the tournament’s first two days were marked by eight rounds of 63 or lower, the greens hardened Saturday as winds picked up and humidity dropped.
“The greens got really kind of crusty and hard out there, different than the first couple days, and especially on the back nine,” Kraft said. “There were two or three greens that were borderline rolling too fast.
“Hopefully they put a little bit of water on them tonight and so everything gets a little more consistent (Sunday).”
Players such as Kraft and Varner have incentives aside from winning. The top four players not already exempt among the Greenbrier’s top 12 finishers will qualify for the British Open at Carnoustie in two weeks.