LA QUINTA, California: Scott Stallings capitalised on a pair of eagles to surge five strokes clear of the field with a sizzling display of "conservatively aggressive" golf in the third round of the Humana Challenge on Saturday.
One shot off the pace overnight, the 27-year-old American fired a nine-under-par 63 on the Nicklaus Private course at PGA West, one of three venues hosting the tournament renowned for its low scoring in the California desert.
Bidding for a third victory on the PGA Tour, Stallings eagled the par-five 13th and eighth after starting out at the 10th to take command with a 22-under total of 194 in the pro-am celebrity event.
"I feel good," Stallings told reporters after scrambling well in a round that also included five birdies. "I played well. I stayed aggressive. I've been smart when I got out of position.
"I guess you can say it's conservatively aggressive. Like number eight today, I hit a really good drive and had eight iron," he said of his second eagle.
"But just because I had eight iron to a par-five, I fired it in the middle of the green, had a 20-footer and was happy to make it."
Former British Open champion Stewart Cink, who has struggled for consistency over the past four years, carded a 66 on the Palmer layout to share second place with fellow American Roberto Castro (69), co-leader overnight with rookie James Hahn.
Also at 17 under with Cink and Castro after another ideal day for scoring with hardly a breath of wind in the sun-drenched Coachella Valley were Americans Charles Howell III (67), John Rollins (64) and Charley Hoffman (67).
Little-known American Brian Stuard was a further stroke back after shooting the best round of the week, a 62 on the Palmer course, putting him among a group of eight including compatriot Kevin Streelman (66) and South Korean Bae Sang-moon (64).
Twice former champion Phil Mickelson flirted with the cut for much of the day but eventually made sure he would qualify for Sunday's final round after completing a six-birdie 66 to finish at 11-under 205.