SAN MARTIN, Calif. -- With a host of players nipping at his heels, young Brooks Koepka held his easy gait in Saturday's third round of the Frys.com Open at CordeValle Golf Club.
Koepka, a former Florida State star, birdied three of his first four holes en route to a 4-under 67, upping his lead to two strokes in the first event of the new PGA Tour season.
With a 54-hole total of 15-under 198, Koepka, 23, stands to earn his tour card with a victory, along with an invitation to the Masters and a $900,000 winner's check.
Not a bad haul, but first thing's first. Koepka showed no signs of nerves in round three.
"Actually struck the ball well today," said Koepka, who leads the field with 21 birdies, playing on a sponsor's exemption. "Felt like I was hitting it good, hitting all my lines "-- Obviously, I wasn't aggressive with the longer putts, but the short ones, they were going the center of the hole. That's always a big confidence boost."
He leads a mob of players who probably can't wait to get another crack at the welcoming CordeValle layout.
George McNeill and Jimmy Walker, who had 10 birdies on Saturday, matched the tournament course record with 62s in the third round.
Jason Kokrak and McNeill, who birdied five of his last six holes, are both two off the lead, and looming three back is World Golf Hall of Fame inductee Vijay Singh, seeking his first win since 2008, along with Walker and Robert Garrigus.
Former Cal star Max Homa brought the local flavor. In his pro debut, he finished eagle-birdie to shoot a 5-under 66, and is only five back. Imagine that.
"Sometimes you got to dig deep," Homa said. "Joe, my caddy, said to stay patient at the start of the round. You never know. You could finish with four straight birdies out here."
Homa drained a dead-straight 25-foot putt for eagle on the reachable par 4 17th hole, which has been basically a pinata for the players. The 50-year-old Singh ignited his round, and the crowd, with a tap-in eagle on 17 in the next group after Homa's. He hit his drive behind the hole and watched the ball trickle down to inside two feet.
"The wind died a little bit, and it was a nice smooth driver and came out perfect," said Singh, a 34-time winner on tour, of his drive on 17.
Stockton native Ricky Barnes roared into contention with a 7-under 64, with five birdies on the back nine. He's in a large group at 9-under 204 that also includes Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and another Cal product, Charlie Wi. Ryo Ishikawa of Japan shot a 67 and is five off of the lead.
Homa won the Pac-12 and NCAA individual titles in May, also helping the U.S. Walker Cup team to a victory over Great Britain/Ireland last month.
Soaking it all in, Homa marveled about seeing golfing legends Davis Love III and Singh competing nearby on the course, which instilled visions of the movie "Tin Cup," he said.
Homa, who felt he scored well despite struggling, really has nothing to lose on Sunday.
"I did a really good job taking my 'struggle round' and putting myself in it," Homa said. "From what I've seen on TV that's what these guys do. I think tomorrow if I come out and get off to a little better start, I can kind of work my way into the mix and maybe sneak a good number up there."
Koepka, who is playing in his first PGA Tour event, not counting playing in three majors, has four of his wins this year in the Challenge Tour, Europe's version of the Web.com Tour.
Does this one feel different?
"No. Feels the same," Koepka said. "It's all how much pressure you put on yourself. Obviously, I think there may be some people that don't think I can handle it on Sunday just for the fact that I've never been sitting in his position: Just got to take it as it comes and be relaxed about it.
"I'm pretty chill, so nothing really bothers me. Don't get too up or down."
The lead group entering the round got off to an epic start. Koepka, Kokrak, and Garrigus were a combined 7-under over the first two holes.
Kokrak, who nearly had a double eagle on his 18th hole on Friday, settling for a tap-in eagle, worked his magic again on the par 4 first. The strapping Canadian hit his approach past the pin from 130 yards, the ball spinning back several feet downhill and into the cup. But Koepka and Kokrak drained birdie putts.
The good times kept rolling on No. 2 as the three all rolled in birdie putts, with Garrigus sweating out a five-footer. Koepka made an impressive par save on the fifth after pulling his tee shot left under a tree. He punched his second shot onto the green and two-putted from 25 feet.
(c)2013 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services