DULUTH - After 18 holes on Saturday, Troy Matteson and Ryuji Imada remained where they started the day - tied for the AT&T Classic lead.
Thanks to a nice finish by Imada.
Imada, a former Georgia standout, made birdies of two of his last three holes at the TPC at Sugarloaf, including a marvelous pitch on the 18th, to tie Georgia Tech grad Matteson for first place at 13-under-par 203. Both golfers shot 3-under 69 in the third round, ensuring they will be paired together for the second straight day when the final round resumes today.
The duo has a two-shot lead over Colombian star Camilo Villegas, who shot 68 on Saturday, and a three-shot edge on reigning Masters champion Zach Johnson, two-time U.S. Open winner Lee Janzen and former Georgia Tech star Matt Kuchar, who had the best third-round score with an 8-under 64, one off the course record.
The lead for Imada is his first 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.
"That's what I'm going to find out tonight," Imada said of what it's going to be like to have a lead going into the final round. "I mean, I don't think I'll be too nervous. I slept well last night, and it's not like I'm waiting by myself. Troy and I have been friends for a little while, and we were pretty relaxed out there (Saturday), talking a little bit. It was just a fun day and I think (today) is going to be about the same."
Matteson led much of the day and took a two-shot lead with his birdie on the 14th hole while his playing partner Imada took bogey to fall back to 11 under. But the Japan native, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour, rallied to regain a share of the lead.
Imada rolled in a 52-foot birdie putt on the par-3 16th to get to 12 under, then tied for the lead on the 18th. On the closing par 5, his second shot sailed over the bunker behind the green, leaving a daunting shot back over it to the green.
However, Imada calmly hit the chip a foot from the pin for a tap-in birdie.
He finished the day with five birdies and two bogeys.
He opened the tourney with back-to-back 67s, giving him an opportunity to post four rounds in the 60s with a good final round today. Only three others have accomplished that feat since the tournament moved to Sugarloaf in 1997.
"It was nice," Imada said of his chip at 18. "It was nice that I didn't hit it in the water because that could have been done very easily ... I figured if I just hit it halfway decent, it was going to carry it onto the green or onto the fringe, and if I missed it a little bit, I was going to leave it in the bunker.
"So that was the plan. And I pulled it off. It was a perfect shot."
Saturday featured a rough start for Matteson, who recently moved to Buford. He bogeyed the first hole to start an up-and-down front nine that featured three birdies and another bogey on the par-3 eighth.
But he remained steady on the back nine, where he hasn't made a bogey all week. His birdies at No. 10 and No. 14 gave him a closing 34. It
wasn't as impressive as Friday's 64, but it was enough to hold onto the lead. He will seek his second PGA Tour win today - he won the Frys.com Open as a rookie in 2006 - while Imada is looking for his first.
"We were having a lot of fun," Matteson said of his pairing with Imada. "It's fun to play with guys that you played with in college before, and Ryuji is a nice guy. That makes the day so much easier, when we're conversing, talking. Some guys get out there and they don't want to talk at all."
Villegas, seeking his first PGA Tour win, was alone in third place after a five-birdie 68. His lone blemish was a bogey on the par-3 eighth.
A stroke behind him is Johnson, who earned his first PGA Tour win in 2004 at Sugarloaf, along with Kuchar and Janzen. Kuchar hasn't won a PGA event since 2002 and Janzen hasn't won since the 1998 U.S. Open.
Tied for seventh at 9 under were Bob Estes, Steve Elkington, Stephen Marino, Joe Ogilvie and first-round leader Kevin Sutherland. Sutherland, who opened the AT&T with a 65, shot his second straight 71 on Saturday.