LEWISTON, N.Y. – It’s going to be a Saturday slugfest in the final round of the 52nd Porter Cup at Niagara Falls Country Club.
How could it not be considering after Friday’s third round there are three players tied for the lead and another 13 within five strokes of the top spot.
“It could turn into one of the wildest finishes we’ve ever had,” said tournament director Steve Denn. “So many players are within striking distance.”
They’ll all be chasing the trio of front-runners who stand at 8-under-par 202 and include second-round co-leader Russell Henley, a senior at Georgia, Stanford junior David Chung and local favorite Jake Katz, a senior at Binghamton from nearby Williamsville, N.Y.
Katz and Chung surged to the top with 5-under 65s on Friday, while Henley struggled at times and came in with a 70.
Hot on their heels is Nate McCoy, a sophomore at Iowa State, who sits at 7-under 203, while another shot back are Peter Uihlein, a junior at Oklahoma State, and Thomas Cocha or Argentina.
Uihlein and Cocha also shot 65 while McCoy, playing in the final grouping for the first time at this stage of competition, held his own with a bogey-free 2-under 68.
“It was pretty intense and I was nervous all day,” said McCoy, who is looking for his first win since capturing the 2007 Iowa High School Class 1A title. “I don’t think my heart started beating the whole day.
“I’m proud of the way I played and the way I handled everything,” he said. “I feel I learned a lot about how to play under pressure.”
You can bet there will be plenty of pressure come Saturday, particularly for the trio at the top and especially since a large crowd is expected to come on and cheer on Katz.
“It’s great to have all the people come out and root for you,” said Katz, who had to go through Porter Cup qualifying to get into the event the past two years. “There’s a little more pressure to do well, but it’s fun.”
After a bogey at the first hole, Katz birdied No. 3 and then holed out a 130-yard pitching wedge shot at the par-4 sixth for an eagle. After a bogey at No. 7, he made birdies at 9, 11 and 12 to get to 7 under.
His tee shot at the par-3, 18th landed six feet from the hole and just before putting he looked at the scoreboard for the first time and saw he was one shot out of the lead. A moment later the ball dropped into the hole, vaulting him into a tie for the lead.
“I’ve been hitting the ball great off the tee and now I’m finally starting to make putts,” said Katz, who is playing in his sixth event in the last seven weeks and coming off a second-place finish at the New York State Amateur. “I’ve played this course 40 to 45 times so know it pretty well. But shooting 64-65 these last two rounds is the lowest I’ve ever shot out here.”
Chung, a semifinalist at this year’s North & South Amateur and a first-team All-American last season, had a solid day as he matched his opening round score.
Chung made birdie at Nos. 1 and 4, but gave one back with a bogey at the fifth. He caught fire on the back nine with birdies at 10, 12, 13 and 14.
It was an up-and-down round for Henley, who opened with 65-67. He made bogey at No. 2, birdie at 3 and bogey at 4. Another bogey came at the seventh, but was followed by a birdie at eight and a bogey at nine. He birdied the back nine two par-5s, 11 and 13, and closed with five pars.
“I don’t know what it was, but I didn’t feel I had the form with my game like I did the previous two rounds,” said Henley, a first-team All-American and winner of last season’s Haskins Award as college golf’s top player. “But I shot even par so I’m not too disappointed.
“Maybe I was putting a little too much pressure on myself,” he said. “Tomorrow I need to come out and loosen up a little, stay patient, and just try to have fun and enjoy the situation.”
The shot of the day came from George Bryan IV, who made his first-ever double eagle at the 552-yard, par-5 third hole. Playing in the sixth group out, Bryan, a recent South Carolina graduate, hit a 5-iron from 221 yards out.
“I hit a perfect drive in the center of the fairway and the 5-iron shot never left the pin,” he said. “It looked like it landed about 8-10 feet short and then rolled up and trickled in. I never really saw it (go in the hole) but when I heard the few people around the green start screaming, I figured it went in.
“My brother Wesley had a double eagle when he was like nine or 10 years old and would always rib me about how he’s 1-up on me,” George said. “Well, now he’s going to have to find something else because I have one as well.”