Esposito opens up 3-shot lead at Champions Q School

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Winter Garden, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Frank Esposito carded a third-round, 5-under 67 on Thursday to open up a 3-shot lead over second-round leader Cesar Monasterio heading into the final day of the Champions Tour Q School.

Esposito, who played in four events and missed two cuts this year, finished 54 holes at 10-under-par 206.

"I played pretty well again today and just hit it solid," Esposito said. "I hit a couple of squirrely shots, but overall I hit it pretty well. I've been happy with my distance control with my irons and I've been driving it well and making some putts."

Monasterio, who was impressive in the second round with a 6-under 66, settled for an even-par 72 on Thursday and he is alone in second place at 7-under 209. Jerry Smith shot his second straight round in the 60s with a 4-under 68 and he is in third at 5-under 211.

Craig Thomas (68), Joel Edwards (69), Rod Spittle (71) and Jeff Freeman (71) are all tied for fourth at 3-under 213.

Beginning the day two shots behind the leader Monasterio, Esposito cruised right from the beginning with three birdies on his first five holes on two, four and five. A bogey on No. 6 slowed Esposito down a little bit, but he rebounded with his fourth gain on the par-5 seventh.

Following a par on eight, Esposito tripped to a double-bogey on No. 9 and he made the turn at minus-1 for the day. Esposito did not let that double-bogey let him down, however, as he got one of the shots back with a birdie on the par-5 10th.

After a trio of pars from 11, Esposito finished on fire as he made three birdies over the final five holes on 14, 16 and 17 and he opened up a 3-shot lead. A par at the last helped Esposito maintain that lead heading into the final round.

"Those birdies after the two bogeys helped keep t he round going," said Esposito. "You've just got to put those out of your mind and forget about them."

Monasterio had a tough front nine a day after shooting a 6-under, but he leveled his game out down the stretch. A birdie on No. 2 had Monasterio in red numbers early, but two holes later he found himself over par for the day with a double-bogey on the par-3 14th. Two holes later, Monasterio tripped to another bogey on No. 6 and he made the turn following three straight pars from seven.

From there it was smooth sailing for Monasterio as he began the back nine with two birdies on 10 and 12, getting him back to even par on the day. Monasterio ended there as he made six straight pars to finish his round.

NOTES: The top five finishers will earn a full exemption on the Champions Tour in 2015, while Nos. 6-12 will get conditional status and the remainder of the top-30 finishers and ties will be eligible to compete for spots in open qualifiers at all cosponsored events ... Bob Niger withdrew following a third- round 78.