Course record falls as two set up Sunday showdown at Barbasol Championship

Photo slideshow: PGA Barbasol Championship round three

Golfers compete in the third round of the PGA Barbasol Championship Saturday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.
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Golfers compete in the third round of the PGA Barbasol Championship Saturday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.

For much of Saturday’s third round, it looked like the PGA Barbasol Championship could be headed for a wild fourth-round finish. Now, it looks like a Sunday showdown between a pair of veterans who pulled away from the pack could be in the cards.

Kelly Kraft, a 30-year-old from Texas with one career professional victory to his name, broke the 28-year-old single-round scoring record at Keene Trace Golf Club’s Champions Course, firing an 11-under 61 in a round that included nine birdies and an eagle.

“Any time you can do that on a course the PGA comes to ... some of the best players in the world are coming out here and to have the lowest round at this course is pretty special,” Kraft said.

It was certainly special, but it still wasn’t enough to vault Kraft into the lead.

Kraft will enter Sunday’s final round one stroke behind 41-year-old University of Cincinnati alumnus Jim Herman, who is playing the best golf of his career at the Barbasol.

“This thing is far from over,” said Kraft. “I mean, I felt like I was making birdies and eagles on the back nine, and I look up and I’m still trailing Jim Herman ... so we’re just going to have to keep our foot down tomorrow and get after it.”

Herman began play Saturday with the outright lead after posting the best 36-hole total of his career by shooting 65 in each of the first two rounds. He was even better on Saturday, making six birdies and two eagles as he matched the previous course record with a 10-under 62.

Mere moments after Kraft broke the scoring mark set by University of Kentucky graduate Steve Flesch in 1991 and tied by Troy Merritt in last year’s Barbasol, Herman had a shot to join him in the record books. He had a good look at a birdie on No. 18, but his putt came to a stop 2 inches short of the cup.

“Kelly played great,” Herman said. “Shot 61 for him, I shot 62. So no lead is safe. So you got to keep the pedal down and see how many birdies you can make.”

A win would be huge for both Kelly and Herman. Kelly’s lone professional win came in 2015 on the Korn Ferry Tour, which is one step below the PGA Tour, while Herman has one PGA win under his belt (2016 Houston Open). Both men are fighting to secure PGA status, and the winner of the Barbasol Championship will earn a guaranteed spot on the PGA Tour for two years.

“I have really been struggling the last year or so,” Herman said. “I haven’t been playing bad, I just haven’t been rolling the ball very well. So, to start seeing the balls go in, that’s a confidence booster. You feel like you can make anything.”

Including Kelly, six players are within seven strokes of Herman’s lead. Among that group is local favorite Josh Teater, who is tied for fifth. The Henry Clay and Morehead State graduate put together a masterful, bogey-free round on Saturday, making six birdies and an eagle on his way to an 8-under 64. Teater is at 17-under heading into the final round, the lowest 54-hole score of his professional career.

“I think I told somebody earlier this week, the goal will be to have a chance on Sunday,” Teater said. “I’m still behind, but I think there’s all kinds of birdies to be made. So I’ll try to go out there and attack like today. I’ve got a chance.”

Teater has locked up a spot on The Korn Ferry Tour for next season by virtue of being ranked inside the top 200 (181) of the FedEx Cup standings. He’s guaranteed a spot in the Korn Ferry finals, a three-tournament gauntlet beginning in mid-August, where he could potentially play his way into full-time PGA Tour status. He said the peace of mind that comes from having a guaranteed spot on the Korn Ferry Tour has allowed him to play loose at the Barbasol.

“Obviously to be home is great, and there’s a little bit of a mindset change,” Teater said. “I’m secure for the playoffs and the Korn Ferry (Tour), so whether I miss these last three cuts or win all three, what’s the difference? I’m kind of letting it all out and having fun. And maybe not trying to prove myself.”

Asked how he’d spend his Saturday night as he prepared to make a Sunday run in his hometown PGA Tournament, Teater replied “Try not to get hurt getting jumped on by my boys. Probably watching my son shoot hoops in the living room.”

So, will he sleep well ahead of a final round that’s sure to provide plenty of drama?

“I have been, so I expect to,” Teater said. “That’s probably what I’m best at.”

He’s pretty good at golf, too.

PGA Barbasol Championship

Where: The Champions Course at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville

When: Through Sunday

Purse: $3.5 million

Defending champion: Troy Merritt


Sunday’s TV: 4-7 p.m. (Golf Channel)

Josh Sullivan has worked at the Herald-Leader for more than 10 years in multiple capacities, including as a news assistant, page designer, copy editor and sports reporter. He is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Lexington native.