POTOMAC -- He was introduced on the first tee at Avenel before starting yesterday's third round of the Kemper Open as "the leading Wadkins in the tournament."
When he tees off this afternoon, Bobby Wadkins will have a new introduction: the tournament leader going into the final round. By tonight, Wadkins hopes to add something even more significant to his resume.
Wadkins shot a spectacular round of 6-under-par 65 for a two-shot lead over Mark Brooks and a 13-under-par total of 200 after the third round.
After a 20-year PGA Tour career that has included two sudden-death defeats, five second-place finishes and a little more than $2 million in earnings, a player known mostly for being the younger brother of Lanny Wadkins is as close to winning as he's been in six years.
And, regardless of whether he wins, Wadkins, 42, has certainly taken a major step toward reviving what had been a solid reputation and reclaiming the status as an exempt player that he lost after undergoing surgery to repair three ruptured discs in his neck two years ago.
"Right now, I've got one goal and that's winning the golf tournament," Wadkins said. "It's hard not to think what it would mean."
Three other players are within six shots of the lead: Phil Mickelson, who climbed into contention with a 4-under par 67; D.A. Weibring, who shot a second straight 68; and Mark O'Meara, who finished with a 69.
Still, most of the attention yesterday focused on the day's final pairing of Wadkins and Brooks, whose two-shot lead to start the round became three after he hit his approach on the par-4 first hole to within two inches of the cup.
While Brooks was struggling on the next five holes, saving par twice and bogeying the par-4 fourth, Wadkins tied for the lead by rolling in birdie putts of 20 feet at the 622-yard par-5 second hole, 30 feet on the fourth and six feet on the 520-yard par-5 sixth, despite hitting his first two shots on that hole in the rough.
"The weakest part of my game has always been my putts, so making those putts kind of got me going," said Wadkins, who hasn't been in this position since leading the 1988 Doral Ryder Open after each of the first three rounds.
So did some advice on the putting green Friday night from his older and more famous brother Lanny, who has won 21 PGA events, including the 1977 PGA Championship, help?
"He told me to go out and shoot a low score and not play defensive," Bobby Watkins said last night."
After falling behind again when he missed the green to bogey the par-4 eighth hole, and by two shots when Brooks made a birdie after hitting his tee shot at the par-3 ninth to within three feet, Wadkins charged into the lead with three straight birdies of his own starting at No. 11.
Wadkins made a 6-footer for birdie at the par-3 11th hole to pull within one shot.
Then he chipped in from 35 feet away on the par-4 12th to tie Brooks, and then went ahead with an 8-footer on the par-5 13th despite snap-hooking his drive into deep rough.
"The big swing hole was 13," said Brooks. He got par there despite hitting a tree on his second shot, and would wind up with a 2-under par 69. "I was in much better shape off the tee, but he wound up with 4 and I got 5. Sometimes it bounces for you and sometimes it doesn't."
Wadkins closed out his round with another 8-footer for birdie at 18, giving him the day's best score.
Not bad for a guy who came into the week 178th on the money list and needing a sponsor's exemption to play.
But Wadkins doesn't look at his near-misses -- "That's in the past," he said -- or the fact that he's won more money than any player in PGA Tour history without benefit of a victory. Nor will he look at the scoreboard when he comes out today.
"It's like when you're a kid, you just play the golf course," he said. "If I play it tomorrow like I did today, I'll win the tournament."
Wadkins might, however, crane his sunburned neck up a few times to see what Mickelson is up to one group ahead of him. Mickelson, the only player in tour history aside from Jack Nicklaus to win four times before his 24th birthday, is in the midst of his own comeback.
After winning the Tournament of Champions in January, Mickelson broke his left leg and fractured his right ankle in a skiing accident.
"Mark and Bobby have kind of separated themselves," said Mickelson, 23, who after dropping to 2 under with a bogey at No. 8 yesterday played the last 10 holes in 5 under par.
"They're about to play with each other again, and they haven't felt pressure unless somebody can take a real good run at them."
If nobody does, it will be left to two veterans in search of a much-needed victory. Brooks won three times in his first eight years, including twice in 1991. Wadkins' best bid for victory came in 1985, when he led the Heritage through 15 holes before Bernhard Langer tied him with a birdie and won in sudden death.
"If he drives it well, the rest of his game will come," said Lanny Wadkins.
And if Bobby Wadkins putts in the final round like he did yesterday, so will something else.
9- Something he's been chasing for 20 years.
The leader . . .
Bobby Wadkins 68-67-65--200
. . . and selected followers
Mark Brooks 65-68-69--202
Phil Mickelson 70-69-67--206
D.A. Weibring 70-68-68--206
Mark O'Meara 69-68-69--206
Scott Hoch 69-72-67--208
Lanny Wadkins 71-74-68--213
John Daly 73-71-69--213
Payne Stewart 73-68-72--213
Fred Funk 74-71-73--218
$ Complete scores: 15C