Darren Clarke will head into the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic with a lot of work to do to challenge for the title after an uneventful second round in Richmond, Virginia.
The former Open champion recorded just three birdies and one bogey in a two-under 70 at the Country Club of Virginia to leave him five-under at the PGA Tour Champions event, eight back of leader Steve Flesch in a tie of 18th.
American Fleisch is looking to complete a blemish-free tournament after keeping a bogey off the scorecard for the second straight day, a five-under 67 taking him two strokes clear of first round leader Steve Alker and Charles Schwab Cup leader Bernhard Langer.
Clarke, who enters this week ninth in the Charles Schwab standings, will still have his order of merit ranking to play for even if the title might be slightly out of his reach, with only one more event to come before the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
He will need a better outing than his 70 in his final round if he is to do so, however, with the former European Ryder Cup captain projected to drop one place to 10th if he was to stay in a share of 18th by the end of the final round.
After opening with four straight pars, Clarke looked to have found some momentum with back-to-back birdies at the fifth and sixth, but he then got stuck in a rut of pars, carding another nine in a row to stay at two-under for the day.
When he finally ended that run, it was with a bogey rather than a birdie, the dropped shot coming at the 16th, but the 53-year-old at least finished on a positive note with a birdie at the 18th to take himself back up to five-under for the week.
Unfortunately that looks like it might be too far back to make a run at leader Flesch, who caught fire on the back nine of his second round to eventually finish with a five-under 67 that has him a couple of strokes clear of Alker and Langer with 18 to play.
The American only had one birdie on his front nine, but after the turn he suddenly saw the putts drop as birdies came at 10, 11, 15 and 18 to keep him bogey-free for the tournament, and the 54-year-old claims a patient approach is keeping him ahead.
“I did a lot of the same stuff as yesterday. I didn’t get off to a quick start, I parred the first five, but then when I got to six, I made a nice birdie and played another great back nine today,” said Flesch.
“I’ve just been kind of playing this week like I have the last two months. I’m not hitting shots I don’t feel comfortable hitting. I’m just kind of… I hate the term ‘playing within myself’, but I’m just hitting shots I know I can pull off and I’m not taking unnecessary chances. It’s kind of how I’m playing.
“And the putter’s hot, so I just want to get the ball on the green and give myself a chance to run it in. That’s kind of the game plan and that will be the plan tomorrow. It’s working, so I’m going to stick with it.”
Behind him, Langer also found a 67 on day three to move into a share of second alongside Alker, who had to settle for staying in touch at the top in exchange for surrendering his first round lead after a two-under 70 left him 11-under.
Behind them, Tim Petrovic and Doug Barron are still in contention at 10-under, while there’s a little bit of a gap between them and Jeff Sluman and Gene Sauers down in tied-sixth at eight-under.