Jones Cup set up for an exciting, unpredictable Sunday finish

Jones Cup

Jones Cup set up for an exciting, unpredictable Sunday finish

Amateur

Jones Cup set up for an exciting, unpredictable Sunday finish

SEA ISLAND, Ga. – When Vanderbilt senior Theo Humphrey walked off the ninth green at Ocean Forest Golf Club on Friday, he surprised himself with how pleased he was with an opening 5-over 77.

“I said to my dad, ‘I can’t remember the last time I shot 77 and felt like I played OK,'” said Humphrey, who has his father, Tom, as his caddie at this week’s Jones Cup.

Tough scoring conditions will change one’s perspective, and Friday in Sea Island was highlighted by frigid temperatures in the 50s and 15-20 mph sustained winds. A day later, though, the temperatures warmed up and the winds lessened. It rained some, but overall the course treated players much kinder in Saturday’s second round. (The scoring average played three shots easier in Round 2, at 74.99.)

Humphrey was a big reason for that. The Greenwich, Conn., product fired a 4-under 68 to move into a tie for third, two shots back of leader Jake Fendt, who shot 73 to fall to 1 under. The Kennesaw State junior remains the only player under par for the tournament, one shot ahead of Mississippi State’s Tanapat Pichaikool.

But it is Humphrey who has posted the only bogey-free round of the tournament so far. He began the day with a tap-in birdie at the par-4 opening hole. He drained birdies from inside 10 feet at Nos. 3 and 14, and had a 35-foot birdie make at the par-3 ninth.

“Unfortunately, I had probably four or five putts that lipped out or burned the edge, so it was close to be a really great round,” Humphrey said. “Obviously, though, you can sign me up for a 68 here any day; I’ll take it and run. But it could’ve been better.”

North Carolina’s Ben Griffin, who also stands at 1 over entering Sunday’s final round, said he thought the course was “more attackable” on Saturday, but that players still had to tread lightly.

“I still tried to have the same gameplan as yesterday, just try to make pars and aim for the center of the greens because if you hit it to the center of the green on every hole you’re not going to have more than a 30-footer,” Griffin said. “You get too aggressive on some of these pins, you can really pay for it.”

Fendt stuck to a similar approach. He wasn’t as sharp as he was in Round 1, but he managed his way around the course nicely. He carded two birdies against three bogeys, including one on the par-4 12th after hitting a 4-iron 195 yards into the wind to 3 feet.

He’ll have a chance to notch a statement victory Sunday, though don’t expect Fendt to look too far ahead. He grew up playing tennis and said that helped him stay within himself on the golf course. He considers mental toughness one of his best golf characteristics.

“Everybody will tell you that this game is about staying level-headed,” Fendt said. “The minute you get upset is when the snowball effect comes into play with bogey, bogey, bogey. … I’m not going to do anything different tomorrow. I’m not going to have any expectations.

“I’m just going to try my best and try to analyze each shot the best I can and execute it as well as I can.”

Humphrey, who has evolved into a much more mature player during the last two years, agrees. He needs to keep his focus, though a victory by him Sunday would further cement his status among the game’s best amateurs. Humphrey is ranked 16th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.

“It’s going to take a great round tomorrow and I can’t really focus on what it would do for me if I were to win,” Humphrey said. “But obviously it puts me in a group than I currently am in, and it’s an exciting opportunity.”

With heavy rain expected around lunchtime Sunday in Sea Island, Jones Cup organizers pushed tee times up. The final group of Fendt, Pichaikool and Jackson Suber will go off of No. 1 at 10 a.m. Eastern. Otherwise, winds and temperatures will be similar to Saturday.

Yet, weather here has been known to be somewhat unpredictable over the years.

“I want it to be warm,” Humphrey said, “… but very windy.”

That would certainly set the stage for a wild, exciting finish at the Jones Cup.

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