AVONDALE, La. — Jason Dufner got past Saturday without any of the troubles that have marked his weekend struggles. He knows Sunday will be a much bigger challenge.
Winless in 163 starts on the PGA Tour, Dufner shot a 5-under 67 on Saturday to take a two-stroke lead over Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., after the third round of the Zurich Classic.
“For me, it means instead of two good rounds I've had three good rounds, so maybe we can make it four, starting tomorrow,” Dufner said. “I don't really think about all that type of stuff. Obviously, I know that I hadn't played as well as I would like on the weekends, try to identify some of the reasons why and try to implement some of those tomorrow.”
Dufner birdied three of the first four holes to get to 15 under, holing 50-foot putt on the par-4 fourth and a 25-footer on the par-4 fifth.
“That's probably a huge key to today,” Dufner said about his good start. “Maybe a couple of bogeys to start the round or even par through same holes maybe I start doubting myself again.
“Be nice to kind of start that way again, get you a little bit more comfortable, know that you're going to have a chance to shoot a score under par and not be struggling or fighting it for the day.”
After dropping a stroke on the par-4 sixth, he birdied the par-5 seventh and got to 17 under with birdies on the par-4 15th and par-5 18th. He has played the 18th in 4 under in three days.
“It's not a golf course I'm absolutely am in love with, but my results I'm in love with here,” Dufner said about the Pete Dye layout. “There's some holes that don't look too well to me, but I played really well.”
DeLaet shot a 66 and birdied three of the final six holes. David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., is 10 back after shooting 68.
“Really felt I was in great control of my irons today,” said DeLaet, whose best career finish is a tie for third in the 2010 Houston Open. “It's exciting. It's the first time I've been in this position this deep into a tournament. I understand what's on the table.”
Dufner lost playoffs last year to Mark Wilson in the Phoenix Open and Keegan Bradley in the PGA Championship for two of his three career runner-up finishes.
“Right now a win would be great,” Dufner said. “Obviously, I've been be knocking on the door with a lot of solid rounds, lot of solid play last year at the end of the year, but I take pride in being consistent with my game. I don't shoot too many high numbers. I don't feel like I'm very far away from playing well each week.”
Ernie Els and John Rollins were 14 under. Els shot a 68, and Rollins had a 69.
“I feel like it's coming around,” Els said. “I feel I'm not too far back. The guys have been scoring well and I think you're going to have to play really well to have the scores we've been playing.”
The Southern African known as The Big Easy is comfortable in the city that shares the moniker.
“My kind of town,” Els said. “People like to have a good time.”
Rollins credited a new philosophy of not looking at the leaderboard for his success.
“I've just been out there playing golf and not really worrying about it,” said Rollins, who has broken par in 15 of 19 career rounds at TPC Louisiana. “I've never known where I stood in the golf tournament until I'm actually finished. It's been fun.”
Ryan Palmer tied the course record with a 64 to join Steve Stricker and Cameron Tringale at 13 under. Tringale had a 68, and Stricker a 69.
Second-ranked Luke Donald was 12 under after a 66. He needs to finish at least solo seventh to regain the top spot from Rory McIlroy.
Defending champion Bubba Watson, playing in his first tournament since winning the Masters, was 9 under after a 65. He opened with consecutive 71s to make the cut by a stroke.