Saturday was College Spirit Day at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational, so it seemed only fitting that a couple of recent college graduates stole the spotlight from the professionals.
LSU’s John Peterson birdied three of his final five holes and maintained his lead after three rounds at Ohio State University’s Scarlet Course. Peterson’s 14-under 199 total is one shot better than college rival Harris English of Georgia, who carded a bogey-free 68.
“We had our college stuff on and it was just the two of us out there together. It really didn’t feel like a professional tournament,” said English, dressed in his red Bulldogs shirt. “We were joking on the range that we thought our college coaches were going to show up at some point, and they still might.”
If they do, they’ll find a couple of relaxed 22-year-olds who aren’t feeling any pressure and have nothing to lose. Neither will count in the money payoff in the $800,000 event, so the first-place check of $144,000 will go to the highest finishing professional.
Currently, that honor falls to TCU rookie James Sacheck, who charged into contention by matching the course record with an 8-under 63. Sacheck’s 11-under total puts him three back of the leader, Peterson, who has held a one-shot advantage after each of the first three rounds.
“You never know who’s going to play well. It might be you, it might be the guy you’re playing with, it might ba a guy three or four back and they beat you by five,” said Peterson, who hit 16 greens but had 32 putts. “You’ve always got to stay aggressive, especially on this tour. It’s not like you’re playing a U.S. Open where pars are good, pars don’t get you anywhere here.”
Columbus native Kyle Reifers (68), Kansas State’s Aaron Watkins (68) and 38-year-old Brian Smock (69) of San Diego are tied for fourth place, four off the pace.
Leading money winner Mathew Goggin (66) of Australia and Clemson’s Matt Hendrix (68) are tied for seventh, five back.
Reigning U.S. Amateur Champion Peter Uihlein (70) of Oklahoma State is one of four players tied for ninth heading into Sunday chase
Peterson, dressed in a yellow LSU shirt and purple pants, struggled through most the day and had fallen back to even-par for the day after a bogey at No. 12. He was at 11-under and two back of his playing partner, English.
“I didn’t hit it good early,” said Peterson, winner of the 2011 NCAA individual championship. “I needed to finish strong because Harry had me by a few.”
Birdies at Nos. 14, 16 and 18 restored the order just as it stood after the second round.
English, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday, turned the front nine in 3 under par to overtake his playing partner and friend for the lead.
“I played solid today and kept the ball in front of me and felt like I hit a lot of greens,” said English, winner of last week’s prestigious Southern Amateur in Palm Harbor, Fla. “I left myself in good spots, which is what you have to do out here. I didn’t really let anything get away from me and made a lot of pars.”
English also hit 16 greens in regulation but faced a bundle of birdie putts from 20-feet-plus on the back nine and had to settle for nine consecutive pars coming in.
--In anticipation of possible afternoon storms on Sunday, tee times have been moved up and fourth-round play will be in threesomes off the first and 10th tees between 8-10:00 a.m. with an expected finish time of 3:00 p.m. ET.
--Harris English is making his third career start on the Nationwide Tour. He tied for 28th at this year’s Stadion Classic at UGA, which was won by college teammate Russell Henley. He tied for 27th in that same event last year.
--John Peterson is making his first career start on the Nationwide Tour. A total of 12 players have been victorious in their first career start. The last player to win in his initial start was Miguel Carballo at the 2007 Movistar Panama Championship.
--Peterson had held the outright lead after each of the first three rounds and will try to become the first player since Colt Knost at the 2008 Price Cutter Charity Championship to go wire-to-wire on the Nationwide Tour.
--There are three amateurs currently in the top-10 : Peterson (first), English (second) and Peter Uihlein (tied for ninth). None of the three are eligible to receive any money and the final payouts will be divided only among the professionals. First-place money is worth $144,000 and second-place money is $86,400.
--Rookie James Sacheck tied the Scarlet Course record with his 8-under 63. Sacheck, who was born in South Bend and grew up in Indianapolis, matched Jonathan Kaye’s opening-day 63 from last year. Sacheck entered the week having missed his last three cuts. For the year, he had made the cut in eight of his 12 starts with his best finish a tie for seventh at the Melwood Prince George’s County Open. He is No. 60 on the money list.
--Leading money winner Mathew Goggin also moved into contention with a 5-under 66. Goggin won the Panama Claro Championship to open the season and was also victorious at the Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open. A win here would give Goggin the Tour’s “3-win promotion” to the PGA Tour for the rest of this season. He is 9-under for the tournament and tied for seventh.
--Kyle Reifers is tied for second in Driving Accuracy (31 of 42/73.8%) and first in Greens in Regulation (46 of 54/85.2%). He is tied for 48th in Total Putts with 92. Harris English continues to lead in Total Putts (80) despite 31 on Saturday. John Peterson leads the field in Total Birdies with 20.