AIKEN — An even-keeled South Carolina native found his groove on a day when a low score was needed to make the final pairing.
Mitch Gray fired 4-under-par 66 on Saturday to take a two-stroke lead into today’s final round at the Palmetto Amateur.
Gray, a four-year golfer at Campbell University, rebounded from two bogeys on the first four holes with birdies on Nos. 6 and 7 to finish 4-under 32 on the back nine. He sits at 4-under for the tournament.
“After the rough start, I was able to avoid trouble and manage the course,” Gray said. “I was able to make good putts and played solid. It was an all-around good day.”
Gray, who was ranked 40th nationally by Golfweek and third in South Carolina, out of West Florence High School in 2008, opened the tournament at Palmetto Golf Club with 72 before bouncing back with 68 in the second round to return to contention. He carded six birdies in the third round and finished 2-under on par-3s for the day.
“It’s all about being patient,” Gray said. “No one goes very low here. You have to stay focused.”
Austin Langdale, the tournament leader entering the third round with steady rounds of 66 and 70 the first two days, suffered
from two rough holes that set him back Saturday. He finished with 74 and is tied for fifth.
Langdale double-bogeyed No. 3 after opening with back-to-back birdies. After a front-nine 37, Langdale remained in or around the lead and was in line for a 71 before triple-bogeying No. 17.
Georgia Southern freshman Scott Wolfes carded 68 and is alone in second place. He opened the tournament with even-par rounds of 70, and his steady play showed in the third round, as he birdied three of the first 10 holes and responded to consecutive bogeys on the back nine with a birdie on No. 14.
Matt Atkins and Scott Strohmeyer are tied for third at 1-under after rounds of 67 and 69, respectively. Atkins had another steady round with two birdies and one bogey, setting up the USC Aiken golfer to contend in the final round.
“I didn’t hit into any bad spots and I didn’t press,” Atkins said. “I just plodded around the course. Anything under par is good
around here, so I have nothing to complain about.
“I’m staying with teammates, so it just feels like another round at Palmetto. The nerves haven’t hit yet.”
Georgia sophomore Sepp Straka is tied for fifth at even par. He made a comeback over the final five holes with three birdies.
The low round of the day went to North Augusta’s Matt NeSmith, who fired 64 to vault himself into a tie for fifth. NeSmith, who was seemingly in wait as a big name in the middle of the pack, made his move in the third round with seven birdies.