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Three players share 54-hole lead at The Ascendant presented by Blue

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Ryan McCormick and Dawson Armstrong, who began the day as 36-hole co-leaders, fired matching 2-under 70s and remained atop the leaderboard following Saturday’s third round. The two were joined by two-time Korn Ferry Tour winner Zecheng Dou, who carded a 4-under 68 and caught Armstrong and McCormick at 12-under par. The trio will comprise the final group of Sunday’s final round of The Ascendant presented by Blue.

All three are one stroke clear of three players at 11-under par, while another 10 players will begin the final round within either three or four strokes off the lead.

While Armstrong and McCormick hold their first 54-hole lead or co-lead on the Korn Ferry Tour, this marks the fourth such lead or co-lead of Dou’s career, as well as his second of the season. Dou converted two of those leads into victories at the 2017 Digital Ally Open and 2019 The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay, but fell in a playoff at the 2022 The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club.

Dou carded a bogey-free 4-under 68, one of five bogey-free rounds Saturday, and clustered his four birdies across the first eight holes. The 25-year-old Beijing, China representative birdied the par-5 first and fifth, along with the drivable par-4 third and par-3 eighth.

“Started off really solid,” Dou said. “I knew there were chances out there on the front, and I caught it every easy hole. I hit the green on a par 4, hit the green (in two) on par 5s, so kind of easy birdies. Coming to the back nine, missed a lot of chances today. Those 10-footers and 6-footers, I just couldn’t read them right. I’m going to work on that later.”

Dou turned professional in 2014 and played predominantly on PGA TOUR China. Dou won four times in 2016 and finished atop the Order of Merit, earning him fully exempt Korn Ferry Tour status for 2017. As a Korn Ferry Tour rookie, Dou won once and finished No. 16 on the regular season money list, making he and Xinjun Zhang the first mainland Chinese players to earn a PGA TOUR card.

Dou made just four cuts in his 23 starts on TOUR, finishing 227th in the 2017-18 FedExCup Standings an falling back to the Korn Ferry Tour . Dou won the season-opening event, but tallied 15 missed cuts in his next 23 starts and missed out on a PGA TOUR card.

Last season, Dou once again made a run at a PGA TOUR card, ultimately coming up one stroke short at the Pinnacle Bank Championship presented by Aetna.

Dou has 12 made cuts in 16 starts this season, including three top 10s, highlighted by a runner-up finish at The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club.

Making his 67th start on the Korn Ferry Tour, McCormick, like Dou, opened his third round with a birdie at the par-5 first and carded two more birdies on Nos. 6 and 10 before his one bogey of the day, which came at the par-3 14th.

“I didn’t have my best stuff today,” said McCormick, a resident of Middletown, New Jersey. “Just tried to do my best with what I had, and I thought I did a pretty good job of that today. It’s nice not to lose any ground, that’s for sure.”

McCormick turned pro in 2014, spending his first four season playing internationally in Asia, along with PGA TOUR Canada and PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. McCormick finished T126 at Final Stage of the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament, leaving him with conditional membership for what became the 2020-21 season. A successful Monday qualifier and T14 finish at the 2020 Korn Ferry Challenge at TPC Sawgrass, the first event in the Return to Golf amid the COVID-19 pandemic, changed the course of McCormick’s career.

“That got it rolling,” McCormick said of the 2020 Monday qualifier. “At Second Stage (of the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament) I birdied a few holes coming in to even make it to Final Stage. Granted, I didn’t play well enough, but that felt like a win in itself. I think back to that a lot, and I’m sure those experiences will help me tomorrow late in the round.”

In 17 starts this season, McCormick has three top-10s, including two in a row entering this week. McCormick’s career-high finish of T2 came earlier this season at the Astara Golf Championship presented by Mastercard.

Unlike Dou and McCormick, Armstrong started his day off with a bogey at the par-5 first and finished with just three pars on the front nine. The 26-year-old Lipscomb University alum scattered five birdies across his card at Nos. 3, 5, 7, and 11, along with the aforementioned bogey at the first, and bogeys at Nos. 6 and 9.

“I just didn’t get any putts to fall,” Armstrong said. “I didn’t get anything out of the round basically the entire front nine with the exception of maybe the putt on No. 7. Finally found a little bit of a rhythm starting on No. 11 and made a few putts. I didn’t really hit it how I wanted it for a majority of the day, but kept it in front of me for the most part, and at the end of the round I made two pretty good putts on Nos. 16 and 17 to keep the momentum going.”

The Brentwood, Tennessee resident turned professional in 2018 and, like McCormick, played internationally as he pursued Korn Ferry Tour status.

Armstrong’s break came in 2019, when he won on PGA TOUR Canada and finished No. 8 on the Order of Merit for Korn Ferry Tour membership. Armstrong finished T7 at Final Stage of the 2019 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament, earning him guaranteed starts in the first 12 events of what became the combined 2020-21 season. Armstrong lost in a playoff for a T2 and recorded a T3 en route to a No. 54 finish on the 2020-21 Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season Points List.

Armstrong has nine made cuts in 15 starts this season, with the highlight being a T7 at The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic at The Abaco Club back in January. Last week, Armstrong tied his career-low round of 63 in the third round of the Wichita Open Benefitting KU Wichita Pediatrics and finished T11, his fifth top-25 this season.

“You plan on being here,” Armstrong said. “You don’t play on this Tour and you don’t play golf just to be comfortable with finishing fifth or seventh. This is a position that I feel like I’m ready for. I feel like I’ve always been ready for. I tend to find myself really focusing in a lot more when I get up near the top.”

Final-round tee times will run in groups of three from 6:48 a.m. through 9 a.m. local time off the first and 10th tee.