Leonard, Chappell tied for 54-hole Disney lead

Kevin Chappell hits his tee shot on the second hole during the final round of the 111th U.S. Open.

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Kevin Chappell wasn’t planning a trip to Walt Disney World, but he wanted to end his season on a high note after a missed cut at the Frys.com Open.

He’s 18 holes from his first PGA Tour victory, trying to join Jhonattan Vegas, Brendan Steele, Keegan Bradley and Chris Kirk as rookies to win this year in their first season off the Nationwide Tour. He’ll face a former major champion in Sunday’s final group and a 21-year-old looking for a Hail Mary finish to his rookie season. Chappell and Justin Leonard, the 1997 British Open champion, are tied at 14-under 202, one shot ahead of Bio Kim, who’s looking to become the youngest PGA Tour winner since Rory McIlroy at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

Chappell had a chance to win earlier this year at the Valero Texas Open, but missed the green with a wedge on the 71st hole. The bogey left him one shot behind winner Steele. Chappell, the 2008 NCAA champion at UCLA, also finished third at the U.S. Open, where McIlroy ran away from the field.

Chappell said he plays his best when he has no expectations – he was struggling entering the Texas Open and didn’t know what to expect at the U.S. Open, his first major. A conversation with baseball player Carlos Pena, Chappell’s pro-am partner on Thursday, reminded him of that.

“Carlos said, ‘When I don’t try, that’s when I have my good games,’ ” Chappell said.

Leonard, the 1997 Open Championship winner, is 144th on the money list, but exempt for next year because of past victories. That didn’t stop him from worrying about his card, as so many players this week are.

Leonard called the PGA Tour earlier this year to confirm his exempt status. The Tour said he was exempt through 2012, even though he hadn’t won since 2008. That led reporters to question his exempt status on Friday. The media guide also said Leonard was exempt only through 2011. And that’s where several hours of confusion began.

A PGA Tour card still will be on the minds of several players Sunday. Kim is the leading candidate to contribute to the drama surrounding the top 125. He needs to finish in a two-way tie for second or better to ensure his playing privileges for next year. He’s one shot behind Chappell and Leonard and will be playing in the final group for the second consecutive day.

D.J. Trahan, who’s tied for 57th in the tournament, is projected to finish No. 125 on the PGA Tour money list. Bobby Gates, like Chappell a rookie off the Nationwide Tour, is projected one spot behind Trahan. Gates is 49th in the tournament.

A lot could change during the final round. Low scores are available on Disney’s Magnolia course, though players must overcome a difficult finishing stretch. Plus there are players such as Leonard, Kim, Henrik Stenson, who’s tied for fourth, and Kevin Kisner, Billy Mayfair and Tom Pernice, all of whom are tied for sixth, who began the week outside the top 125 but are in contention for a big check.

Trahan didn’t want to discuss his position on the money list. “Please don’t start asking me about the 125. I don’t even want to start thinking about it.”

Come Sunday, he’ll have to.

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