Saunders moves ahead at Q School

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La Quinta, CA ( - Steve Saunders birdied his last four holes on Saturday to close out a 5-under 67 and claim a 3-stroke lead at the conclusion of three rounds of the Tour Qualifying Tournament.

Saunders, who missed the cut in each of his four starts on the PGA Tour Canada in 2013, finished 54 holes on the TPC Stadium Course at PGA West at 17-under- par 199.

"I'm trying to keep this in perspective," said Saunders. "There is still a lot of golf left. I played two practice rounds and nine holes the other day and so it feels like I've been going for a long time out here."

Jimmy Gunn fired an 8-under 64 during his third round to vault into a share of second place with Scott Pinckney (67) at 14-under 202.

Max Homa (67), Nathan Tyler (71) and Michael Kim (66) are tied for fourth place at 13-under, while second-round leader Chris Epperson stumbled to a 4- over 76 to fall into a tie with Tony Finau (68) for seventh at 12-under 204.

Epperson entered the third round with a 4-stroke lead, but that advantage dropped to just two as he bogeyed the second to fall to 15-under and Saunders and Tyler, who were playing with Epperson in the final group, both birdied the second to move to minus-13.

Epperson tripped to another bogey at the third, and Tyler took advantage with a birdie at the fourth to claim a share of the lead at 14-under.

Epperson reclaimed the outright lead with a birdie at the fifth before adding another gain at the seventh to move two clear of Saunders at 16-under.

Saunders had recorded birdies at the fifth and eighth around a bogey at the sixth to move to 14-under, while Tyler bogeyed the eighth to drop to 13-under.

After Epperson, Saunders and Tyler all bogeyed the ninth, Saunders used a 3- stroke swing at the 10th to jump to the top of the leaderboard as he birdied the hole to move to 14-under, while Epperson posted a double-bogey 6 to drop into a tie for second with Gunn at minus-13.

Gunn had eight birdies and a bogey through 16 holes to reach 13-under, and then added his ninth birdie of the day at the 17th to meet Saunders atop the leaderboard.

Gunn parred the 18th to claim the clubhouse lead.

Saunders, meanwhile, traded a bogey at the 13th with a birdie at the 15th to remain at 14-under before Pinckney birdied the 16th to make it a three-way tie for the lead.

The tie did not last long, however, as Saunders continued to roll in birdies at the 16th, 17th and 18th to finish three clear of the field at 17-under.

"I was just pretty steady all day today and gave myself a lot of opportunities and missed a couple par saves and birdies, but I just tried to stay really patient," Saunders said. "I made a 30-footer for birdie on 17, and then hit it in the fairway bunker on 18 and hit it to about 25 (feet) and made that one to finish with a flurry, which was cool."

NOTES: Saunders has not made any starts on either the Tour or the PGA Tour ... The tournament is also being contested on the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West ... The medalist this week earns fully exempt status on the Tour, while those who finish from second through 10th and ties are exempted through the first two reshuffles. Those finishing 11th through 45th are exempt through the first reshuffle.