Be like Bubba. The new mantra around the University of Georgia Golf Course this week pays homage to former Bulldog Bubba Watson, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year and rapidly developing cult hero. UGA senior Russell Henley has fully embraced the concept of Bubba, who has always preferred the road less traveled.
Henley spent much of Saturday’s third round of the Stadion Classic at UGA having fun and chatting with friends, some of whom he hadn’t seen in weeks. When Henley wasn’t catching up with the gallery, he was showing off for them and ultimately produced a 5-under 66 that vaulted him into a share of the 54-hole lead with 33-year-old Troy Kelly of Tacoma, Wash.
2011 STADION CLASSIC
PGA Tour player Bubba Watson is the tournament host of this year's Stadion Classic.
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Kelly, who had his left hip replaced last September, was bogey-free en route to a 66 of his own to tie Henley at 9-under 204. Former Clemson All-America Matt Hendrix three-putted the final hole to lose a share of the lead and will begin the final round one stroke off the lead.
“I was just out there trying to have fun,” said Henley, Golfweek magazine’s 2010 National Player of the Year. “Being a Bulldog and from Athens, I just really want to play well for everybody. They want to see good shots. I just want to do it for those guys.”
Korean-born Won Joon Lee, Darron Stiles and Elliot Gealy are tied for fourth place, three shots back of the co-leaders. A different Bubba -- first- and second-round leader Bubba Dickerson, a former Florida Gator -- managed a 1-over 72 and is part of a six-way tie for seventh place at 5-under. Another nine players are bundled together at 4 under par, which should make for an interesting final day.
“I wouldn’t be shocked with a couple of holes to go that there are four or five guys that could win this tournament,” said Hendrix. “It’ll be a dogfight.”
And that’s exactly what the locals are hoping for -- a Dawg fight.
Watson, winner of last week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans, was in town on Monday to lend support to the school and the tournament, for which he is an honorary co-chairman with another Bulldog, Chip Beck.
“Bubba says he wants to play Bubba golf, and he just wants to do it his way. He doesn’t want to be like everyone else, that’s boring,” said Henley. “I’ve kind of taken that and I just want to do it my way. Just be who I am in between shots and not not talk to people. I really appreciate everybody watching me. That’s what makes this game fun, everyone coming here and cheering for you.”
Henley heard plenty of them during a sun-splashed afternoon that featured eight birdies and a couple of misses from inside of six feet.
“I feel like I put myself in good position but there’s still a lot of golf to play,” he said. “I am playing to win. I’m not here just trying to have a good tournament. I want to win this tournament.”
Henley battled Kelly for most of the day and had a chance to reach double digits at the closing hole with his fourth consecutive birdie, but missed a putt from six feet.
“Not letting anything bother me, that’s the main thing,” said Henley when asked about the strongest part of his game this week. “The main thing I’m proud of myself for is that I’m not getting down on myself if I make bogey or miss a short putt. It’s about moving and having fun.”
Bubba would be proud.
--Players, caddies, officials and volunteers wore black ribbons Saturday to honor the passing of Spain’s Seve Ballesteros, 54, who passed away earlier in the day.
--Saturday’s third-round scoring average for the par-71 layout was 70.724.
--The last time an amateur held/shared the lead in a Nationwide Tour event was at the 2009 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational. Oklahoma State’s Rickie Fowler shared the 36-hole lead with Joe Daley and Dave Schultz. That tournament, like this one, was played on a university course -- the Scarlet Course at Ohio State University. Fowler went on to lose a playoff to Derek Lamely that week.
--Troy Kelly has never held/shared a lead in his previous 28 career starts on the Nationwide Tour. His best standing after any round was a second-place finish at the 2009 Chattanooga Classic. His previous best position after 54 holes was a tie for sixth at the Rex Hospital Open in 2010.
--Georgia senior Russell Henley will try to become only the second amateur ever to win on the Nationwide Tour on Sunday. Daniel Summerhays was in between his junior and senior years at Brigham Young University when he won the 2007 Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio.