Wheatcroft extends lead at the Prince George's Open

Gary Christian followed Steve Wheatcroft’s 60 on Friday with the best round of the day Saturday, a nine-under-par 62 that vaulted him into a tie for seventh place in the Prince George’s Open at the University of Maryland golf course.

Wheatcroft held on to his first lead in a Nationwide Tour event, shooting 65 to go to 22-under 191 and increase his advantage to eight strokes. Nicholas Thompson (64) is his closest pursuer headed into Sunday’s final round.

With Wheatcroft well ahead of the field, Christian went into Saturday just appreciating his good fortune.

“I approach this week as almost like a freebie because I didn’t feel I played good enough to make the cut,” Christian said. “All of a sudden, now I’m playing the weekend in a tournament I didn’t expect to be playing.”

After a frustrating few early holes, the 39-year-old knocked his ball onto the green in two on the par-5 No. 4 and made a 20-footer. “That kind of got it going,” he said.

Christian followed the eagle with a birdie on the next hole. He went on to birdie four of the next five holes.

“All professional athletes try to get in the zone,” he said. “I would say [that’s] probably what I got in today. It was just easy. Everything flowed. You pick out a spot, work out a shot to hit it there and it would go there. Then you’d pick out a spot on the green, you’d roll it over and it would go in.”

After he lipped out a 15-foot putt for birdie on No. 11, Christian settled for pars on five consecutive holes. He closed out his round with birdies on two of his last three holes for his career-best round on the Nationwide Tour.

In the first two rounds, Christian wasn’t hitting his ball well off the tee. On Saturday, he missed only two fairways.

Christian, who grew up in Carshalton, England, joined the Nationwide Tour in 1999. He spent the next several years playing mini-tours as well as selling knives and working as a membership director at a country club. He also appeared on the television show “The Weakest Link” in 2001.

He rejoined the Nationwide Tour in 2006 and has played in six events this year, making the cut in five and finishing in the top 25 twice. With another strong round on Sunday, he can put himself in position for his first top 10 finish since a year ago at the Stadion Classic.

“The good news is out here the field is fairly bunched,” he said. “You almost kind of take the leader out of the equation a little bit. Everyone else is fairly close where if you can shoot something in the mid-60s you at least move up to give yourself a good chance to maybe finish in the top 10.”

Though it is unlikely Wheatcroft will stumble badly enough to allow the field to catch him, Christian recalled rallying from a seven-shot deficit for his only win to date on the Nationwide Tour at the 2009 Northeast Pennsylvania Classic.

“I just want to try and keep that flow going,” he said. “The tendency when you get a little tight, a little nervous, is to slow down a little bit, think too much. [Sunday] I want to try and keep that same mentality.”

Kathy Orton is a reporter and Web editor for the Real Estate section. She covers the Washington metropolitan area housing market.
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