Sage Valley: Hoey, field will need to catch Horsfield

Sam Horsfield, who shot a 1-under 71 to take a two-shot lead into the final round, celebrates his birdie on the par-4 14th hole at Sage Valley on Saturday.

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GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Limping into the clubhouse is not a signature Rico Hoey move. This 17-year-old, who posted a smooth 69 in the opening round of the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, is suave. He just couldn’t keep the pace in Round 2

“Yesterday and today felt like night and day,” Hoey said of his 1-over 73 on Saturday. He had three bogeys and a birdie in his final five holes and is at 3-under 141 for the tournament.

Hoey, dressed in a black shirt and grey pants for Round 2 and with a stud in each year, was visibly worn slick after a day spent chasing leader Sam Horsfield. But Horsfield, at 5 under, still is within striking distance for Hoey, at 2 under. The two played together on Saturday as Horsfield posted 71.

“Watching him play, I thought I could feed off him,” Hoey said, but he never could get comfortable over his putter. Hoey had four three-putts in his round and battled a few tricky hole locations. He walked off the 18th green on a cloudy evening ready to recharge for the final round.

If Hoey, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., does stage a successful comeback tomorrow, only travel buddy Aaron Wise, also playing in the tournament this week, will be there as a support group. With his easy-going personality, however, Hoey has become something of a favorite among the local crowd. His biggest headlines came last summer, when he overtook Beau Hossler in the final round of the Callaway Junior World Championship. Hossler was only a month removed from a 29th-place finish at the U.S. Open.

That story found it’s way East this week with Hoey.

Golf prowess is in this family’s DNA. Hoey’s two older sisters – Kay and Simone – each played for Long Beach State. Simone, now a senior on the 49ers team, won the Fresno State Lexus Classic on April 16. Kay was a conservative player and Simone goes for everything, Rico explains.

“I learned how to do both,” he said.

Hoey will need to be aggressive on Sunday, and so will his fellow chasers. The final round at Sage Valley will be about who can catch Horsfield. The 16-year-old granted pursuers few opportunities on Saturday as he posted a 1-under 71. Horsfield bogeyed No. 17 to go to 5 under for the tournament. The next closest player is Kristoffer Ventura, the Norwegian at 3 under. Americans Robby Shelton and Sam Burns posted rounds of 68 to also get to 2 under. There are seven players tied for fourth at that number, and it’s a group that also includes Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, who led for much of Day 1 before a triple-bogey at No. 18 derailed his round.

Ventura has already proved that he can make birdies on this track. He made seven in an eight-hole stretch on Friday, but says he normally averages four birdies per round. On Saturday, Ventura closed in 33 to gain ground on Horsfield. He didn’t see a leaderboard until he was walking up No. 18 fairway.

“Today it was much easier to play,” Ventura said of Sage Valley. Early-morning rains left greens much softer than in Round 1.

Ventura maintains that true greens here mean “you can make any putt,” and has struggled mostly with reading the grain. He’s not used to that back home in Norway, and says his caddie has been instrumental green reads. Ventura also never saw a green that was faster that 12 on the stimpmeter until he ventured out of Norway.

Ventura hoped he would have a spot in the final group on Sunday, and he will. That will make it easier to keep an eye on the prize.

“I’m in a good position for tomorrow,” he said. “I’m the one chasing, he’s the one that has to play well.”

As for leader Horsfield, a victory at Sage Valley could be the career-defining victory his resume, loaded with Central Florida-area junior tournament victories, is lacking. He didn’t expect to take such a lead into the final round, though.

“I thought somebody was going to shoot 65 today,” he said.

For Horsfield, playing with a lead means playing safely and intelligently, until there is an accessible pin. He’ll have to make birdies on Sunday, too.

“Around Orlando, I had a lot of leads,” he said. “I just learned how to deal with it.”

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