Wilcox leads South Georgia Classic by seven shots after third round

Will Wilcox at the South Georgia Classic
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Will Wilcox leads the South Georgia Classic after shooting a career-best 63 on Saturday.
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PGA.com news services

Series: Web.com Tour

VALDOSTA, Ga. – Will Wilcox fired a course-record 63 Saturday and moved into a nearly insurmountable lead after 54 holes at the South Georgia Classic on the Web.com Tour. Wilcox set personal and tournament records en route to a 16-under 200 total, seven strokes in front of his nearest competitors.

First-round leader Ryan Spears (68), D.J. Brigman (70) and Michael Putnam (70) share second place at 9 under, while Andrew Loupe (71) and second-round leader Hudson Swafford (72) are eight behind the torrid pace being set by the 26-year-old third-year pro from Alabama.

Wilcox didn’t tame the Web.com Tour’s longest course; he destroyed it on a day when only nine of 65 players posted sub-70 scores. His 63, which included a bogey at the final hole, was five strokes better than the next best scores – 68s by Spears and Will MacKenzie.

“I just hit it nice and I putted good,” said Wilcox, who isn’t one to overstate things. “I just made good birdies on holes I needed to. My swing felt good and my putting feels great, that’s the main thing.”

Wilcox opened with a 71 on Thursday, but made a change in his grip pressure prior to Friday’s round. Instead of doing the more conventional thing of lightening the pressure, Wilcox increased it. His putts have dropped from 33 to 27 to 25 and over the past 36 holes he has chalked up 15 birdies while nearly lapping the field. His “Lucky 7” lead matches the second-biggest 54-hole advantage in tour history.

“I know I’m sitting nice, but these are really good players and this is a really good golf course,” said Wilcox, who is in search of his first tour win. “It’s not like I’m going to waltz around here (Sunday). I have to try and keep it in front of me.”

Wilcox started the day one shot off the lead, but four birdies in his first six holes quickly gave him a three-shot bump on the field, which was struggling en masse to keep up. Wilcox stepped on the gas pedal early on the back nine. And things accelerated when he eagled the 490-yard, par-4 12th hole – the second toughest hole this week.

“The pin was back-left and I knew all I had to do was carry it 180 to the center of the green with a little hook spin and it would roll back there,” said Wilcox, who had 193 yards to the hole. “When that 7-iron went in, we didn’t even know what to say. Everything just came together. That’s the longest shot I’ve ever holed out.”

The former Clayton State University standout didn’t let up. He rolled in three birdies and saved a par on his next four holes, pushing his lead to eight at the time.

“I’ve made a lot of big life changes in the past four or five months that have allowed me to be more relaxed than I used to be,” said Wilcox, who moved to St. Croix at the start of the year. “I’m living right and it’s a lot easier to play well when you know you’ve done the right things and treat people the way you should.”

Wilcox earned his way onto the tour in 2011 by making 10 cuts in 18 starts, highlighted by a couple of third-place finishes. Last year, he made 10 cuts in 23 starts and wound up No. 55 on the money list.

“I played really nicely in 2011 to get on this tour but ever since it’s been a struggle,” he said. “I just realized that 2012 was a waste of time and I wasn’t taking advantage of my abilities. I wasn’t doing what I needed to do.”

And that included saying goodbye to Alabama, and hello to the Caribbean.

“My sponsor has a condo down there and property values have fallen a bit. He suggested I live in it, so I took him up on it,” said Wilcox. “It’s like a little cocoon. You can go down there and be you.”

Third-Round Notes:

--Wilcox bogeyed his final hole after hitting his tee shot into a fairway bunker. The mistake cost him a chance to tie the largest 54-hole in Tour history.

--When Wilcox missed a 10-foot par putt on the final hole, he also missed out on an unofficial tour record. He settled for a 63, five strokes better than anyone else could manage for the day. While there is nothing in the record books, research indicates that the largest one-day stroke differential in tour history is six. Notah Begay shot a 13-under 59 in the second round of the 1998 Dominion Open. The next-best score that day was 65 by Jim Estes, Perry Moss and Bob Burns, who went on to win that week in suburban Richmond, Va.

--Wilcox set a career-best with his 63. His previous best in 48 career starts was a 7-under 64 in the second round of the 2012 Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship.

--This is the first time that Wilcox has held/shared the 54-hole lead. His previous best came at the 2012 Neediest Kids Championship, where he was tied for fourth after three rounds.

--This year, Wilcox has made the cut in three of five starts. His only top-25 finish was a tie for 12th at the Chile Classic. Currently he is No. 55 on the money list, but a win Sunday could vault him as high as No. 3.

--Wilcox’s career-best finishes are a tie for third at the 2011 Stadion Classic and a solo third at the 2011 Mexico Open.

--The largest 54-hole lead in the previous six years of the tournament was only one stroke by Bryan DeCorso in 2008 and by David Hearn in 2010.

--Byron Smith had pair of eagles on par 5s during his round. Smith eagled No. 2 and No. 11 en route to a 3-under 69.