AP Sports Writer
WORTHINGTON — Nathan Kerns knows they don’t give out any awards for leading the Ohio Amateur — at least until the end.
But he’s still pleased to be sitting atop the leaderboard by two shots heading into the final 18 holes.
“It’s where everybody in the field wants to be after three rounds,” he said. “There’s always pressure on the leader, to see how he does. But I like my position.”
He should. He’s got the inside track in the 116th edition of the tournament after Thursday’s third round at Brookside Golf & Country Club.
The Marshall University senior-to-be from Ironton rebounded from a rocky patch to post four birdies coming home in a 4-under 68 that matched the day’s low round. He stands at 8-under 208, two strokes clear of Bill Williamson.
Williamson birdied holes 8 and 9 — while playing partners Kerns and Nathan Clark were each putting up two bogeys.
But the 21-year-old Kerns showed some resolve on the back nine.
“I bounced back. So it felt good,” he said. “I started hitting the ball a little bit better on the back nine and making some putts.”
Williamson, a 35-year-old attorney from Cincinnati, was asked what stood out about Kerns’ game.
“Sometimes that’s the mark of a great golfer — they’re boring,” he said after shooting a 71. “They’re boring good, that’s sort of him. He hits fairways and greens and then he made a couple of putts that maybe surprised him. But that’s going to happen. I can’t say I haven’t had a couple of those, too.”
Kerns saved par with an up-and-down at the 10th hole to avoid extending his string of bogeys. He then birdied holes 11, 12, 14 and 15 in a backside 32.
He vows that he won’t have a difficult night sleeping on the lead. Nor will he change his approach in the final round.
“My take on it is I’ve always just tried to go out and play the course when I’m in this position,” he said. “I won’t worry about anybody else until I need to, really — maybe the last couple of holes. You always have an idea where your competitors are, but I’ll pay more attention to myself.”
Williamson had a two-shot lead at the turn, but didn’t have much happen coming down the stretch.
“I don’t feel like I played very well, so to break par is not bad,” he said. “The putter went a little cold on the back side. I was struggling to find shots to fit my eye. And I hit a couple of shots that were a little loose.”
Williamson said he would not alter his mindset playing head-to-head with Kerns. He won’t take unnecessary chances, won’t try daring shots. He’ll just try to find an edge somewhere.
Another two shots back is David Haley, a University of Minnesota senior from Hilliard. He’s never finished higher than 21st in six starts in the Ohio Am, but did put together his own 68, which included seven birdies, a double and a bogey.
“I knew if I could get it going for four rounds and play my game and play consistently that I would have a chance on Friday,” he said of his chances.
Playing at Brookside in a tournament that has been won twice each by Arnold Palmer, John Cook and Ben Curtis was enough to get his juices flowing.
“It’s a big deal. There’s a few tournaments in the summer that stand out and this is the one,” said the former state medalist in high school. “The state amateur is so prestigious.”
Haley was tied for 25th and tied for 15th after shooting 72 in each of the first two rounds.
Clark, who began the day tied for the lead with Williamson, lapsed to a 74 to get to 213. The 26-year-old senior at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky., had makeable birdie putts on five of the first six holes but didn’t convert.
He said he hoped to find the range with his putter. If the Dublin resident is in the hunt, he’s ready to start shooting for pins in the final round.
“We’ll just see how it goes,” he said. “If I get to the back nine and I’m 1 over, of course I’ll switch it into overdrive and try to birdie every hole.”
Tied for fifth at 214, six shots back, are Youngstown State’s Dennis Holub (71) and former Ohio State players Scott Anderson (71) and Alex Redfield (73).
Two Brookside members, Kevin Grabeman (72) and Matt Beckett (73) were at 215. Defending champion Korey Ward, a Xavier player from West Chester, shot a 69 and was in the pack at 216.
Michael Bernard, who at 16 became the youngest Ohio Am winner in 2010, is nine shots back of Kerns and knows he has to make a big move.
“I’m going to have to shoot probably 6 under tomorrow to be in it,” said the incoming Ohio State freshman from Huber Heights. “It’s possible, but I have to play really good.”
Another teenager did, at least on the 16th hole. Upper Arlington’s Justin Wick, the youngest player in the field at 15, aced the 180-yard hole with an 8 iron. But he finished with a 79 and missed the cut of 222.
Kerns’ biggest wins have been in the state junior tournament and this summer’s Mid-Ohio Amateur. He plans to follow the same strategy in the final round as he did in those victories.
“My thought today was to fire at the pin if I had the (right) club in my hands. It was basically picking my spots in terms of being aggressive,” he said. “When you’ve got a midiron in your hands, put it in the center of the green and give your putter a chance.”
In other words, be boring good.