FORT WAYNE, Ind. – It seemed everyone knew where Robby Shelton was on Thursday morning at Sycamore Hills. For the third round of the Junior PGA Championship, standard bearers and live scorers emerged, thus creating buzz that there was a career round under way.
Shelton, a tall, lanky player from Alabama, began the day four shots off the pace and in a share of seventh. He started the comeback immediately, making eagle at No. 2. From there, he birdied four straight starting at No. 4 to make the turn at 6-under 30. Shelton held it together on the back, making three more birdies at Nos. 10, 12 and 15 before closing out his round with his sole bogey, at No. 18. His 8-under 64 set a course record.
The closer Shelton got to the clubhouse, the bigger his gallery grew. Several fellow players and parents waited for him beside the white fence surrounding the 18th green. Despite failing to get up-and-down for par there, Shelton took the solo lead at 11-under 205.
“I guess the adrenaline or something on 18 – I mean, 9 under,” Shelton said. “I pushed (the par putt) a hair, but it wasn’t too bad of a shot.”
Thursday’s round isn’t a case of Shelton going unconscious and scratching birdies onto the scorecard without even realizing it (he did concede, however, that when he made his final birdie at No. 15, he wasn’t sure if it got him to 8 under or 9 under). He’s been in this position before. Shelton shot 8 under at his high school sub-state tournament and 7 under at the 2010 Future Masters. His all-time low stands at 9 under, which he shot at his home course, Azalea City Golf Course in Mobile.
“I’ve been hitting it good and putting decent, and I knew if I got my putter going I could shoot a low round out here,” he said. “The greens are soft, and you can stick it.”
After Round 3, Cameron Champ of Sacramento, Calif., is at Shelton’s heels. Champ shot 5-under 67 on Thursday, his second 67 of the week, and is one shot behind.
Champ, playing one group behind, wasn’t surprised that Shelton broke the course record. He kept an eye on the scoreboard as it was happening.
“I knew Robby was playing really good, so there’s nothing you can do about that,” he said. So Champ put together six birdies of his own.
Tyler McDaniel will round out the last threesome during Friday’s final round. The Manchester, Ky., native bogeyed No. 18 to shoot 70. He trails Shelton by two shots. The leaderboard remains tight after that, tighter still considering the number of low rounds recorded this week at soggy Sycamore Hills.
As Champ’s mantra went on Thursday, “We have one more day to come, so I knew anything can happen.”
NOTES FROM AROUND THE CUTLINE:
• Kyle Meihofer missed the cut by three shots despite an improbable – albeit lopsided – second round. Meihofer turned in 45 (he played the back nine first), told himself he had nothing to lose over the remaining nine holes and came in with 29 for a 2-over 74 total. Meihofer, from nearby Valparaiso, Ind., one-putted all nine greens, a personal first. In fact, he guesses his previous low nine-hole score was 32 or 33.
“Yes, it was a total disaster nine, but it wasn’t,” he said. “I only had two bad holes where I had mental errors and then I just kind of walked off the 18th green … and I just kind of thought to myself, I don’t really have anything to lose. From there on, it was kind of a blur, just putt after putt.”
Meihofer said his game can be streaky, but it usually isn’t that extreme. He shot even-par 36 on the front Thursday, but finished at 6-over 78 to miss the cut by three.
• Chelso Barrett, runner-up to Jordan Spieth at the 2011 U.S. Junior Amateur, was among four players to miss the cut on the number. Barrett shot even-par 72 in Round 3 to finish at 8-under 224.
• Dru Love, whose dad is U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, started the week with a 3-under 69 before falling down the leaderboard with rounds of 83-78. He finished at 14-over 230.
“I felt good the first day,” Love said. “I hit a lot of good shots and let a couple get away, but it was just one of those days where everything happened good, got a lot of good breaks and just really close to being right there.”
Love joins the Alabama roster this fall.