By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LA QUINTA, California, Jan 19 (Reuters) - American Scott Stallings, helped by a pair of eagles, surged five strokes clear of the field with a sizzling display of golf in the third round of the Humana Challenge on Saturday.
One shot off the pace overnight, Stallings fired a nine-under-par 63 on the Nicklaus Private course at PGA West, one of three venues hosting the tournament renowned for its low scoring in the California desert.
Bidding for a third victory on the PGA Tour, Stallings eagled the 13th and the eighth after starting his round at the 10th to take command with a 22-under total of 194 in the pro-am celebrity event.
Former British Open champion Stewart Cink, who has struggled for consistency over the past two years, carded a 66 on the Palmer layout to share second place with fellow American Roberto Castro (69), the co-leader overnight with James Hahn.
"Today the weather was just so perfect out there, there really is no way to improve the conditions," Cink told reporters after compiling six birdies in a flawless round. "It's the very best it could possibly be."
Also at 17 under with Cink and Castro were Americans Charles Howell III (67), John Rollins (64) and Charley Hoffman (67).
Little-known American Brian Stuard was a further stroke back after shooting the best round of the week, a 62 on the Palmer course, putting him among a group of seven including compatriot Kevin Streelman (66) and South Korean Bae Sang-moon (64).
While most of the field took advantage of another ideal day for scoring with hardly a breath of wind in the sun-drenched Coachella Valley, twice former champion Phil Mickelson was battling to make the cut.
The four-times major winner was four under after 15 holes on the Palmer layout, his nine-under total leaving him a stroke outside the projected cutline. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry)