Rookie Prugh leads Hope by single shot

Alex Prugh fired a 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Bubba Watson and Martin Flores.

Alex Prugh fired a 7-under 65 to take a one-stroke lead over Bubba Watson and Martin Flores.

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LA QUINTA, Calif. – Alex Prugh’s last name rhymes with “Who?”

That’s a good question – and a good young player leading the Bob Hope Classic.

The 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie surged ahead when the sun finally came out Saturday, shooting a 7-under 65 on the tough La Quinta course to take a one-stroke lead over Bubba Watson and fellow tour rookie Martin Flores.

With his third straight remarkably consistent round in the five-round, four-course tournament, Prugh pulled ahead at 21-under 195. Yet if the former University of Washington star had any strong feelings after his second straight bogey-free round, Prugh wasn’t letting on.

“I was almost bored with myself a little bit,” said Prugh, who trailed Watson by two strokes entering the third round. “It’s not a bad thing. I was hitting the driver very well, and I kept on hitting fairway after fairway. ... Boring rounds are actually fine with me.”

Prugh thinks the pro-am format keeps him away from any mental dangers that might otherwise arise from leading a PGA Tour tournament after three rounds. Perhaps helping amateurs with their game prevents him from overthinking his own.

Whatever the magic formula, Prugh is the first rookie to lead a round at the event since John Senden took the second-round lead in the 2002 tournament eventually won by Phil Mickelson.

“I’m just trying to entertain my amateur partners as well as I can, and hopefully they get their money’s worth when they’re out here,” Prugh said.

Flores was every bit as impressive as Prugh, shooting the second straight 65 of his bogey-free tournament to pull into a tie with second-round leader Watson (68), who rallied after a slow start on the Arnold Palmer Private course.

Joe Ogilvie (68) was four strokes back at 17 under. Chad Collins (69), Tim Clark (67) and Bill Haas (66) were 16 under, and Mike Weir (67) was 15 under.

After rain washed out play Thursday and threatened Friday, the players finally reveled in perfect Palm Springs scoring weather. Amateurs, celebrities and pros alike were thrilled to see fewer fairway marshes and more sturdy greens, but two unheralded rookies made the biggest splashes by crowding around Watson, who’s also seeking his first PGA Tour victory.

The long-hitting Watson was in prime position to pull away a bit after doing well on the two tougher courses during the rainy first two days, but he was 1 over after eight holes on the Palmer course Saturday before stringing together four birdies on the back nine. Although he’s touting a new mental attitude this season, Watson couldn’t help jabbing himself after wasting a chance.

“I just played bad,” said Watson, the tour’s second-longest driver last year. “The 68 was getting a lot out of my round today, so I’m not mad at a 68. It’s just (that) I wanted to play better. My caddie kept yelling at me, trying to get me to pay attention and stay focused. I just hung in there.”

After finishing 72nd last week at the Sony Open, Prugh played as well as a Pacific Northwest native might be expected to do on the Hope Classic’s two rainy days. He shot an opening-round 64 on the easier Nicklaus Private course at PGA West, followed by a steady 66 on Friday at the Palmer course.

Prugh has played 41 straight holes without a bogey, while the 27-year-old Flores has yet to make a bogey in the tournament. The Texas native seemed a bit more excited than Prugh about the auspicious debuts of two Nationwide Tour regulars last year.

“There’s a first for everything, and I just seemed to be very comfortable in this situation for some reason,” said Flores, whose last bogey was on the 17th hole of his final round at the Sony Open last week. “I don’t know why that is. I never want to come off as arrogant, but ... I’m just confident in my game, and I like that right now.”

Prugh and Flores both played on the Nationwide Tour last year. Prugh won the New Zealand Open and earned his PGA Tour card by finishing 16th on the money list, while Flores didn’t do particularly well in his nine starts, but earned his card by finishing fourth at the national qualifying tournament.

After two weeks, Prugh hasn’t found the PGA Tour competition to be a whole lot stiffer than on the Nationwide Tour. With none of the tour’s top 35 players in the Hope Classic field, he might have a point.

“The competition level is very similar,” Prugh said. “I think you’re very well prepared after coming out of there.”

DIVOTS: Sony Open winner Ryan Palmer has rallied after his opening 72, moving up from 93rd place to a tie for 15th with a 64 on the Nicklaus course. ... Haas is the son of Jay Haas, the 1988 Hope winner. ... Kevin Steelman had lowest round Saturday, a 63 on the Nicklaus course. He was 9 under overall.

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