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Varner, Kraft tied for lead at Greenbrier

Harold Varner shoots 4-under 66, ties second-round leader Kelly Kraft at the top entering the final round of A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier in West Virginia

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Harold Varner III looks at a putt on the first hole during the third round of the Military Tribute at The Greenbrier golf tournament in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Saturday, July 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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By JOHN RABY
AP Sports Writer

Saturday, July 7, 2018

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — Harold Varner III, a former East Carolina standout, and Kelly Kraft are looking to add to the crop of first-time winners on the PGA Tour in West Virginia.

Varner shot a 4-under 66 Saturday to tie Kraft at the top entering the final round of A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier.

Both are seeking their first tour wins in their 85th starts. Since this tournament debuted in 2010, there have been four first-time champions, but no third-round leader has won.

“I wish we could go play right now,” Varner said. “I’m pretty hungry. This is what you work for. This is what I get so pumped up to do.”

Varner had four back-nine birdies after 10 consecutive pars to catch Kraft, the second-round leader who let a four-stroke lead slip away and shot 1-under 69.

Both were at 14-under 196.

Varner’s best finish on tour was a tie for fifth at the OHL Classic in Mexico in 2016. He has one top-10 finish in each of the past two years and won the Australian PGA Championship in 2016.

“I guess this whole thing’s new to me because I’ve never had a lead going into the last day,” Varner said. “But I don’t really lack confidence. That’s never really been a problem. I just need to slow down and take it all in. Because there’s going to be something that happens tomorrow where I can learn and I can grow and I can get a lot better. So it goes back to keeping it in perspective.

“That was deep. Sorry.”

Kraft, who finished fifth in last year’s tournament, refused to get down on himself despite bogeys on two of his final three holes Saturday.

“I’m just going to stay patient tomorrow,” he said. “I hit a lot of good shots today.”

Fifteen golfers were within five shots of the lead. The tournament has been decided by two or fewer strokes every year and has gone to a playoff three times. The 2016 tournament was canceled after devastating floods.

The Old White TPC dried out on a sunny Saturday and scores weren’t as low as the first two days when rains softened the course and yielded eight rounds of 63 or better.

Kraft had a one-stroke lead entering the round, the first time he’s led after 36 holes on the PGA Tour.

He parred every hole on the front nine Saturday and his lead improved to four after birdie putts of 19 feet at No. 10 and 5 feet at No. 12 and holing a 40-foot pitch shot at No. 11.

Then he found two bunkers on the par-5 16th and made bogey, and found the greenside bunker and missed a 5-foot par putt on the par-3 18th.

Kraft said he struggled judging the speed of his putts.

“The greens got really kind of crusty and hard out there, different than the first couple days,” Kraft said. “And especially on the back nine, there were two or three greens that were just — they were borderline rolling too fast.”

Defending champion Xander Schauffele and Kevin Na were at 13 under. Both shot 65. Sam Saunders was alone in fifth place at 12 under after a 67.

Bubba Watson shot 65 and was among three players at 11 under. Watson hopes to add this tournament to his three other wins this season.

Watson wants to honor his late father, Gerry, a Green Beret who fought in the Vietnam War. Watson owns a vacation home at The Greenbrier Sporting Club. He and his wife, Angie, contributed significantly both in money and in volunteer work during local relief efforts after June 2016 floods killed 23 people statewide and forced the tournament to be canceled two weeks later.

“Big day tomorrow,” Watson said.

Anirban Lahiri of India and Webb Simpson trailed Kraft by a stroke entering the third round. Lahiri was bogey-free over the first two rounds but bogeyed the first two holes Saturday, shot 71 and dropped three strokes behind. Simpson shot 76 to fall eight strokes back.

The top four players not already exempt among the top 12 finishers will earn spots in the British Open at Carnoustie starting July 19.

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