The end of the third round of the Wichita Open looked more like pinball than golf at times Saturday afternoon at Crestview Country Club. But the guys in the middle of it all, Roberto Castro and Steven Bowditch, shrugged it off and kept their places on the leaderboard.
Castro survived an adventurous final hole to shoot a 4-under par 67 and remained the sole leader by one stroke in the $575,000 Nationwide Tour event. The Alpharetta, Ga., native's closest pursuer is Bowditch, an Australian who flew a tee shot over the hospitality area at No. 17, but countered with a birdie at No. 18 to stay on Castro's heels after a 66 on Crestview's North course.
"It got a little bit hectic there at the end," said Castro, who salvaged a par for a 54-hole total of 19-under 194, keeping him in position to capture his first Nationwide Tour victory. "It's not so much a bad shot, but a bad decision that gets you in trouble."
Sunday's final pairing will be the same today as Castro, a 25-year-old, and Bowditch, 27, tee off at 1:15 p.m. Omaha native Scott Gutschewski, who is two shots off the lead after a 68, and 2007 U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost, three back in a tie for fourth, will be in the group ahead of them.
Six of the top 10 players on the leaderboard heading into today's round have won on the Nationwide Tour. Bowditch's came on his home soil when, as a 21-year-old, he won the 2005 season-opening Jacob's Creek Open.
Castro, a former Georgia Tech standout and winner of the 2007 Byron Nelson Award, is looking for his first Nationwide victory to claim a full-time spot on the tour. He has primarily played on the eGolf Professional Tour the last three years, winning four times.
"He's playing great," said Bowditch, who observed Castro while doing his own solid work on Crestview's back nine with a 4-under 32. "He had his first bogey of the week and was pretty unlucky.
"He's going to be tough to beat. He's a good player, a really good player."
Castro's first misstep in three rounds came at the par-4 16th, when his approach to the 383-yard hole sailed too far and stopped in thick rough behind the green. His third shot came out heavy, leaving him a 15-foot par putt, which he missed a few inches right.
It was Castro's first bogey in 54 holes going back to last week's Cox Classic in Omaha. Two holes earlier, Castro became the first and only player to get to 20 under par in the tournament with a birdie a the par-5 14th.
"It wasn't a very exciting way to end it," Castro said of his bogey-free streak. "I hit in kind of a goofy spot."
Bowditch launched a charge early in the back nine, following a birdie at the par-4 11th with a birdie-eagle combination at Nos. 13 and 14. His big adventure came at the 202-yard 17th, when Bowditch sent a "duck-hook 4-iron" over the grandstand left of the green.
"I just hit a bad golf shot," Bowditch said. "It was that simple.
"It was something where whether I made birdie on the hole or whether I made bogey on the hole, the golf tournament was still there for anyone."
Bowditch settled for a bogey 4 after a lengthy determination with a rules official to get relief from the grandstand. He skipped his second shot into a greenside bunker, blasted out and sank a 5-foot putt.
Castro took a two-shot lead to the 520-yard 18th, a hole the field has feasted on for 245 birdies and 25 eagles this week. But after hitting his tee shot into the right rough, Castro acknowledged a mental error, advancing his 6-iron second shot into a bunker 60 yards short of the green.
Castro's third from the bunker came out low and hot, caroming off a mesh fence behind the green and back on to the putting surface. He two-putted from 35 feet for par, and headed to the scorer's table with a lesson learned.
"It was a good reminder for me to make good decisions, because that was an awful decision," Castro said of his second-shot choice. "Going into tomorrow, it's not so much about hitting good shots and bad shots. It's about giving yourself a chance to hit good shots, and I didn't do that on the last hole."
Such self-awareness could be a strong asset for Castro, who tied for sixth in last year's Chattanooga Classic after Monday qualifying for the Nationwide event. Over-analyzing the leaderboard certainly wouldn't do him any favors.
Last year's Wichita Open winner, Chris Tidland, started the final round six shots behind 54-hole leader Jhonattan Vegas. Vegas is now six behind Castro, and there are 18 others either at the same point or closer to the leader.
Gutschewski, 19th on the tour money list, is near the top despite playing with the burden of his grandmother's death in Omaha on Tuesday. Chris Kirk, No. 4 in earnings, soared 30 spots up the leaderboard into a tie for seventh with Saturday's best round — an 8-under 63. Fabian Gomez and Hunter Haas, part of a large group at 13 under, have second-place finishes on their resumes at Crestview.
Castro, a proven mini-tour winner, is well aware of the challenge.
"One of the first things I learned playing professional golf is if you want to win a tournament, you usually have to shoot the low round of the day the last day," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're winning or if you're two or three back. You kind of just have to go out there with that mentality.
"It doesn't mean you try any harder or press or whatnot. You just realize starting on the first hole that you're going to need to play a really good round."