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Scott Stallings leads by five in desert

Stallings shoots 63 at the Nicklaus course for a solid advantage in Humana Challenge. Phil Mickelson makes the cut but is well back.

January 19, 2013|By Diane Pucin
  • Scott Stallings shot a nine-under-par 63 on Saturday for a a five-shot lead after three rounds of the Humana Challenge.
Scott Stallings shot a nine-under-par 63 on Saturday for a a five-shot lead… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )

Scott Stallings, who has an easy smile and a sweet swing, sneaked away with a five-shot lead after three rounds of the Humana Challenge on Saturday.

While many were congratulating 39-year-old Stewart Cink on his six-under-par round of 66 that jumped him from 15th into a five-way tie for second or were busy biting nails waiting to see whether Phil Mickelson made the cut (he did), Stallings shot a nine-under 63 at the PGA West Nicklaus course and earned himself a big advantage heading into Sunday's final round.

Stallings, a 27-year-old from Knoxville, Tenn., has a 54-hole total of 22-under 194.

In the final round, the 81 golfers who made the cut will play at the PGA West-Palmer course at La Quinta.

It was Cink, who will turn 40 in May, who seemed most pleased with his Saturday score. Less than four years ago Cink won his only major tournament, the British Open.

But since then, Cink said his game began a slow but steady deterioration. After last season, when he ended the year ranked 149th in the world, Cink went to a former coach for help.

"I asked him to take a look at my swing and tell me what he thought was different from five years ago and also tell me what my strengths and weaknesses were," Cink said.

"We worked for about 30 minutes and he looked at me and said, 'To be honest with you, I don't see a lot of strengths here.' That was kind of a wake-up call for me because I still felt like I had some strengths, at least."

Stallings, in his third PGA Tour season, seems well on his way to his third tour victory, and if it comes at the Humana it would be redemptive. Two years ago he missed the cut here and last year he had to withdraw after the first round when his rib cartilage was torn while he underwent post-match therapy.

"Kind of a comedy of errors happened," Stallings said. "The next thing you know, cartilage was torn. It was not good."

Mickelson made the cut after a 66 at the Palmer Course, but he trails Stallings by 11 shots.

On another desert day when conditions were nearly perfect with little wind and temperatures in the 70s, Cink called his 66 "unspectacular."

Stallings was a little more positive about his 63.

"I feel good," Stallings said. "I played well."

Helping Stallings to his score, the second-best of the day (Brian Stuard had a 62, also on the Nicklaus course) were two eagles. He is also the only player in the field who doesn't have a bogey in the first three rounds.

Cink hasn't had a top-five finish in any tournament since that 2009 British Open, and he doesn't hold out much hope he can make up five shots on the leader Sunday.

"You're five shots back on a course where the leader is probably not going to back up very much," Cink said. "If we were at Torrey Pines, like next week, there'd be a chance. A five-shot deficit could come back in the first nine holes. Here, you wouldn't expect that."

But then, just a bit wistfully, Cink asked to add something to his statement. "We'll see," he said. "You've got to play all the holes."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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