By RICK BROWN
Patrick Rodgers feels right at home at the John Deere Classic.
He played in his first PGA Tour event here in 2012. He was in contention in a tour event for the first time at TPC Deere Run, in 2013. This was even the first tour event he attended as a spectator.
And now, it could be the site of his first PGA Tour victory. Rodgers takes a two-shot lead over Daniel Berger and Scott Stallings into Sunday’s final round. He shot a third-round 68 and is at 16-under-par 197. Berger shot a third-round 63 that included a front-nine 30. Stallings shot a 64 that included a back-nine 30.
“This is exactly where I want to be,” said Rodgers, 25, who won 11 tournaments as a collegian at Stanford. “It’s why I show up every week, to win. I grew up playing all sports. You don’t play to finish second.”
Rodgers said he’s comfortable with the lead, but considers it a waste of time to think about what a victory would mean with a round to play.
“You’re not going to win a golf tournament by sitting here thinking about what it’s going to mean when you’re 18 holes away,” Rodgers said. “Fortunately, I’ve been in this position a lot in my career, both as an amateur and a pro. I feel very comfortable in this position. I’m just going to carry that comfort level and confidence into tomorrow.”
Rodgers didn’t have his “A” game on Saturday, but he remained patient and got away with a few loose swings down the stretch.
“All in all, if you would have told me I would have the same lead I started with, that’s a positive,” Rodgers said. “It’s going to be a shootout tomorrow, because there’s a lot of birdies to be made out here. I’m going to have to make my fair share to stay at the top.”
Berger, who defended his FedEx St. Jude Classic title this year and then was second at the Travelers Championship in his previous tournament, likes his position on the leaderboard.
“I love this position,” said Berger, the 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. “I feel if I can get off to a good start tomorrow, then I can put some pressure on (Rodgers).”
Berger predicted he’d have to shoot 6 or 7 under par in Sunday’s final round to have a chance to win because of the prime scoring conditions at TPC Deere Run.
“I’m just going to have fun,” Berger said. “You can’t force the ball into the hole. You have to go out and hit shots. And if it happens, it happens.”
Stallings, 32, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour, got his week off to a slow start with bogeys on the first two holes of Thursday’s round. But he’s played his last 52 holes in 16 under par.
“I’m just happy to be where I’m at,” Stallings said. “Today was a great day to overcome a little bit of a slow start. I felt like I put myself in a lot of positions on the front and I just didn’t capitalize. But I was able to hit some nice shots down the stretch and see some nice putts go in.”
Nicholas Lindheim shot a second straight 66 Saturday and holds fourth place to himself at 13 under par. Lindheim and Stallings both eagled the par-5 17th hole.
Bryson DeChambeau, Jamie Lovemark and J.J. Henry are deadlocked in fifth at 12 under par. Ten more players are tied for eighth at 11 under, including former Deere champion Zach Johnson and PGA Tour rookie Rick Lamb.
There are always surprises on moving day. One of the biggest was provided by Lamb, 26, who has one career Top 20 finish. Lamb shot a 6-under-par 30 on the back nine to start Saturday’s round.
“After the first nine holes I realized I was playing well,” said Lamb. “I wanted to keep it going. Sometimes you kind of wake up and say, “I’m 6 under,’ and you try to protect yourself a little bit. I was hitting it good. I just wanted to keep firing at flags and keep making putts.”
When Lamb got to 9 under for the round with birdies on three of the first four holes on the front nine, the thought of breaking 60 snuck into his mind.
“I knew I had to keep it going to have a chance,” said Lamb, who played the final five holes 1 over par to settle for a 63.
The other surprise was the 70 turned in by Johnson, a round he called “a grind.”
This was just the third time in his last 35 rounds at the John Deere that Johnson didn’t shoot in the 60s. He bogeyed the par-5 second hole after an off-target second shot and never found momentum after that.
“It’s hard to get some momentum early when you get off to a poor start,” Johnson said. “There were two or three just wayward shots that cost me and my day. Just lazy swings. Which is unfortunate because I feel like I’m swinging pretty well.”
Johnson looked to gain some momentum when he chipped in for eagle at the par-4 14th hole. But he answered that with a poor tee shot at the par-4 15th and gave it all back with a double bogey.
“Taketh and giveth, right?” Johnson said.
Johnson hasn’t given up hope of winning a second Deere title on Sunday.
“A lot of work, but anything’s possible,” Johnson said. “I’m going to try and birdie every hole, and see how that goes.”
Rodgers, who has made 19 birdies through three rounds, knows he’ll need some more to get his first career victory on Sunday. His leading score of 197 is the lowest on the PGA Tour this year.
Rodgers also took a share of the lead into the final round of the Farmer’s Insurance Open in January, before tying for fourth. Now he’s in position to become the 19th player to make the John Deere Classic his first PGA Tour title.
Rodgers said he has “incredible memories” when he comes to TPC Deere Run. He’s 18 holes away adding another one.