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Triplett holds lead after 54 holes in Knoxville

John Mallinger is close to the lead heading into the final round of the News Sentinel Open.

 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The 22nd News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot is up for grabs. Windy conditions rolled in halfway through the day making the course tougher and brought a slew of players back into the mix. Kirk Triplett carded a few late birdies in the afternoon to fire 4-under 68 and post 17-under 199.

The 49-year old leads Nationwide Tour rookie Aaron Goldberg (65), 2010 Nationwide Tour graduate Kevin Kisner (68) and 36-hole leader John Mallinger (72) by one-stroke entering the final round. Georgia Bulldog Paul Claxton (69), Marco Dawson (65), who won the Lasalle Bank Open in 2002, last week's Midwest Classic winner James Nitties (66), lefty Ted Potter Jr. (68), this year's Melwood Prince George's County Open champion Steve Wheatcroft (67) and Knoxville's own Garrett Willis (71) are all two back at 15-under 201.

Lurking at 14-under 202 is two-time winner Mathew Goggin (68/11th). Goggin, who is No. 2 on the 2011 Nationwide Tour money list, won the season-opening Panama CLARO Championship, coming from four strokes back on Sunday to win by two. He picked up his second win roughly four months later at the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open. Goggin is seeking to become the first three-time winner since Michael Sim in 2009. Nine players have earned the "battlefield" promotion to the PGA TOUR.

"I'm very excited about tomorrow. This is why I came out to play," Triplett said after his round. "Anybody who is between four and six shots back still has a chance."

Triplett, who is searching for his first Nationwide Tour victory in his 12th career start, began the third round three shots back but quickly made birdie on the par-5 1st hole. He patiently carded ten pars before notching three birdies in a row on Nos. 12-14. The three-time PGA TOUR winner will be using his past experiences on Sunday to help him seal the deal. Triplett's most recent win on TOUR came at the 2006 Chrysler Classic of Tucson.

"I came out here to try and get into contention," said Triplett, who played in the final group here last year and finished T3. "It was difficult to stay patient during that stretch of pars but the course required me to make some adjustments because of the conditions. The hole locations were within a few feet of the edges and the greens started to firm up so there were some pins I couldn't get at -- I don't spin it as much as I used to -- I just had to stay patient."

The 36-hole leader John Mallinger appeared to be running away with the tournament after making three birdies to start the round but a triple-bogey on the par-4 8th hole stopped him in his tracks. After making the turn Mallinger made a couple more bogeys and he appeared to be on damage control. Fortunately he made a couple of birdies coming down the stretch to stay in contention entering the final round.

"I just got a terrible break there on the eighth hole," said Mallinger, whose ball hit the left edge of the green and kicked 20-yards left out of bounds. "It was a tough break but I was able to roll in a couple of birdies towards the end of my round to keep me in the tournament so I'm happy about that."

Goldberg's bogey-free 7-under 65 matched the low round of the day. The 26-year-old rookie, who is 75th on the Nationwide Tour money list, is competing in his ninth event of the year. His best finish, T8, came at the Chiquita Classic where he played in the final group and he's finished in the top-30 in his previous three starts.

"I putted really well out there today," said Goldberg, who made two 25-foot putts for birdie from off the green on the par-4 8th hole and the par-4 14th hole. "I've won on different levels before so hopefully I can feed off that. I played in the final group on Sunday in Cincinnati and I feel like I learned from it. I didn't play badly I just didn't get anything going. Hopefully I'll be a little more comfortable tomorrow and play well."

Former University of Georgia All-American Kevin Kisner struggled on the opening nine with a 1-over 37 but quickly stole two back after chipping in for eagle on the par-5 10th hole. The 2010 Mylan Classic champion kept up the pace and finished off his round with three more birdies to get back in the hunt.

"I struggled on the front after making just one bad swing," said Kisner, who hit it out of bounds on the par-5 5th hole en route to a bogey. "Tomorrow I'm just going to try and make as many birdies as I can. I think it'll be a shootout since the wind isn't supposed to blow as bad."

The 16 players within four strokes of the lead are all chasing one thing at the News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot, the $90,000 first-place check.

 

Image by Getty Images

By  Adam Wallace, Nationwide Tour staff, PGA TOUR

 
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