CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. – It may have sounded a little brazen, but entering the Rolex Tournament of Champions, T.J. Vogel told Golfweek, “I definitely want to leave here with a victory, and feel like I can do it.”
That statement is sounding more and more like fact now that Vogel leads the Rolex TOC entering the final round.
“I want to win it,” said Vogel, whose third-round, 3-under 69 at Dalhousie Golf Club has him leading by two shot over Johnathan Schnitzer and Gavin Hall. “I’ve been in rhythm. . . I’m not going to change a thing tomorrow.”
Vogel, No. 12 in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, is winless in his AJGA career and said this will be his last AJGA event. The 18-year-old – bound for USC in the fall – has five top 10s in AJGA events and is coming off a tie for eighth at the Toyota Junior World Cup in Tokyo where he represented the U.S. along with Jeffrey Kang.
“I learned about killer instinct over there,” Vogel said. “It was a great experience.”
Aggression has been Vogel’s strategy at Rolex, and though he’s made birdies in bunches, that “killer instinct” contributed to bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 late in the third round. But he rebounded with a birdie on 18 to close out the day.
The spotlight will shine brightly on him tomorrow. Vogel welcomes any extra attention and pressure that comes along with leading one of junior golf’s biggest events.
“I love it,” he said.
That pressure may have led to the undoing of overnight leader Talor Gooch. Gooch’s round fell apart on the par-4 sixth when he made a triple bogey. He turned in 4-over 40 and never rebounded, coming away with a 77 to land in a tie for ninth.
Jeffrey Kang birdied four his last five holes and posted 68. He lurks three shots behind Vogel in a tie for fourth with Byeong-hun An.
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Karen Chung is a strong contender for tiniest player in the girls’ field, and by her own admission, the runner-up at last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior struggles to hit it out of her own shadow.
But Chung, 14, may be the hottest player in the field entering the final round. Her 6-under 66 put her just a shot back of Victoria Tanco at 8-under 208.
“I’m like, ‘Let’s have fun out there,’ ” Chung said. “I’m going to try to get as many birdies as I can [tomorrow].”
Chung poured in five birdies on her front side and turned in 5-under 31. She capped her bogey-free round with a birdie on her last hole, No. 9.
Chung will play alongside Tanco in the final round. The Argentine’s focused marched toward the title has been a marvel to watch. She, however, isn’t satisfied.
“I played really good today, but I missed a lot of putts,” Tanco said.
Chung’s putter has carried her throughout the event, and she’ll need it to perform under pressure. The diminutive New Jersey-native is no stranger to the pressure of big events, though.
As an unknown 13-year-old, Chung went up against Alexis Thompson in the finals of last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior. Though she lost, 5 and 4, Chung gained a better understanding of her potential and capabilities.
“I feel pressure all the time, but I focus better now,” she said. “We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.”