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Rookie atop a tight PGA pack

SAN ANTONIO, Texas — PGA Tour rookie Brendan Steele birdied the 17th and 18th holes for 4-under 68 on Saturday, grabbing sole possession of the Texas Open lead after beginning the day tied with six others for the top spot.

The 28-year-old Californian put his third shot within 15 feet on the par-5 18th then sunk the putt for his sixth birdie to help offset two bogeys.

"I decided to play it a little more conservative and laid it up, and it paid off," Steele said of the birdie to end his round.

He led by one at 7-under 209 over second-year tour pro Cameron Tringale, who led by two after 16 holes but hooked his tee shot on No. 18 into the deep rough — almost reaching a creek. He recovered on the approach, only to miss a 13-foot putt and settle for 4-under 68.

Winds were calmer but still blew nearly 30 mph at times, after strong gusts Friday saw the field struggle to a second-round scoring average of 75.289, the highest on tour since the first round of the 2008 British Open. Strong winds are forecast again for today's final round.

"There's going to be good shots that don't end up good and bad shots that end up worse," Steele said.

Another rookie and Californian, Kevin Chappell (70) and Brandt Snedeker (70), were tied for third at 5 under. Steele, Tringale and Chappell have a combined 62 starts on tour while Snedeker's only tour victory came in 2007.

"There's a lot of younger players getting on tour quicker now than there ever has been, and I think that's really been the difference," Tringale said. He added that he is still new enough that almost no one pronounces Tringale (Tren-gal-EE) correctly, instead calling him "Triangle" "Trin-gle" "Trin-nail" "Tri-nail" and a host of others.

Steele began tied for first at 3 under with Chappell, Snedeker, Geoff Ogilvy, Rich Beem, Kevin Sutherland and Charley Hoffman. The seven-way tie was the most crowded PGA leader­board in a decade.

TWO PASS MCILROY: Rory McIlroy completed a par 72 that included a double bogey on the par-3 15th, relinquishing the Malaysian Open lead to Alexander Noren and 17-year-old Matteo Manassero heading into today's final round in Kuala Lumpur. McIlroy was 1 over in completing the last nine holes of his third round, which was delayed by rain and lightning. Noren (71) and Manassero (67) were at 12 under. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel completed his round of 67 to get to 6-under 211.

Rookie atop a tight PGA pack 04/16/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 17, 2011 12:56am]

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