ST. ALBANS, Mo. – When you shatter an all-time Championship and course record of 61 the day before, the question is how in the world do you follow that?
Well, for Akshay Bhatia, 15, of Wake Forest, North Carolina, the answer is to set a new 54-hole scoring record of 199, as he became the first person ever to break 200 in the history of the Boys Junior PGA Championship. The Championship was founded in 1976.
Highlighted by a hole-out birdie from a greenside bunker on No. 15, Bhatia’s 3-under-par round of 69 (69-61-69 199) moved him into unchartered territory, as he heads into Thursday’s final round on the Lewis and Clark Course at The Country Club of St. Albans. He recorded five birdies and two bogeys Wednesday.
Amazingly, one day before (on Tuesday), his scorecard showed an astronomical 12 birdies and just one bogey, including eight birdies on his first nine holes.
With his record-breaking numbers, Bhatia stands at 17-under par for the Championship. Yet, he knows he is not free and clear. Just two strokes back is Daulet Tuleubayev, 18, of Cupertino, California, a native of Kazakstan, who moved to the United States four years ago. Tuleubayev (67-68-66 201) fired what matched the low round of the day, a 66, carding seven birdies versus just one bogey.
“I tried to get the mindset today that there was still two days left to play this championship and that everyone was starting even,” said Bhatia. “It’s going to be fun tomorrow. I’ve never been in this position before, and I want to get the job done.”
Meanwhile, Tuleubayev was one of the top chess players in Kazakstan when he was eight-years old. He admits to using some strategy to keep within striking distance of Bhatia.
“My mindset is I got to chase this guy,” said Tuleubayev, who first played golf after reading an article about Phil Mickelson winning the Masters in his father’s Golf Digest. “The course is scorable. I am going to go for it.”
In a tie for third at 13-under for the Championship, four shots behind the leader, are Trent Phillips (67-70-66 203), of Inman, South Carolina, and Reid Davenport of Austin, Texas (66-69-68 203). With six birdies on his scorecard, Phillips equaled Tuleubayev's 66.
Michael Barnard (70-70-67 207), of Gallatin, Tennessee, and Jacob Bridgeman (65-68-74 207), of Inman, South Carolina, are eight shots behind Bhatia, in a tie for fifth.
Also tying for low round on the day was Will Thomson, of Naples, Florida, who stands in a tie for 14th place after a third-round 66.
The Jack Nicklaus Trophy will be awarded to the champion at the conclusion of play on Thursday.
One of golf’s major championships for juniors, the Boys Junior PGA Championship is where the best in the world get their start including: 2017 Open Champion Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink, Trevor Immelman, Justin Leonard, David Toms and Scott Verplank. Begun in 1976, at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, the Championship has been a popular stop on the national junior circuit for many of today’s PGA touring professionals.
The Boys Junior PGA Championship doubled the size of the field this year and is conducting its Championship at The Country Club of St. Albans 10 days after the conclusion of the 42nd Girls Junior PGA Championship—which was won by Rose Zhang, 14, of Irvine, California in record-tying fashion, with a 72-hole total of 268.
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