No one made more of positive move Saturday at the Georgia Open than Jay McLuen did.
McLuen, a mini-tour player who made two PGA Tour appearances earlier this season, was one of three players trailing Cumming’s Eddie Lee by three strokes after the second round, but McLuen shot a 6-under par 66 to take a four-shot lead into today’s final round at Pinetree Country Club.
Lee, another mini-tour player, shot 73 and is tied for second at 8-under with former Kennesaw State golfer Matt Nagy (70), while current Owls Jimmy Beck (70) and Kelby Burton (72) are fourth and fifth, respectively, at 7- and 6-under. Former North Cobb golfer Chris Nicol (71) is sixth at 5-under.
The leaders started their rounds at the 10th hole, leaving them to finish on the 530-yard, par-5 ninth.
McLuen, the 2011 Georgia Open champion, double-bogeyed his first hole, but he played the rest of his round at 8-under, including an eagle on the par-5 16th, to take command of the tournament.
“I hit it out of bounds on my first shot and decided to tear it up from there,” said McLuen, who was tied with Beck for the lead after a first-round 66. “It upset me. I knew I’d make a bogey at some point, so I got it out of the way early and hit to about 10 to 12 feet of the hole the next seven holes. I really got into a rhythm after the 10th with perfect numbers and made birdies when I could.”
With everyone chasing him, McLuen knows it will be his tournament to lose today.
“I feel like I should win,” he said. “If I do what I should do, it will be tough for people to catch up.”
Kennesaw State’s trio of past and present players are hoping to catch up. Nagy had four birdies and two bogeys during his round, while Beck finished with two birdies over his final five holes.
“I don’t see (McLuen) going over par (Sunday), so we’ll need to make more birdies than him and get our scores into the mid-60s, and then anything can happen,” Nagy said about what it would take for either he or his Kennesaw State brethren to overcome McLuen.
“We’ve played the course so many times that we know when and how to hit the ball. We just haven’t been hitting it into the right spots.”
Beck parred No. 7, birdied No. 8 and hit into the fairway on 9. His second shot hit a tree, but it landed back in the fairway and he two-putted for par.
“It was a grind out there,” Beck said. “I made pars and took birdies when I could. Overall, we’ll see what I’m able to do to catch up.”
Beck and Burton were part of the Kennesaw State team that competed for the NCAA championship this past spring. According to Beck, there’s always some pressure on a golfer, no matter the status of the event.
“It’s nothing new when it comes to pressure, because there’s always a little of it there,” he said. “It’s a different environment, and there’s different people competing, but we all want the same thing. It’s not a national championship, but we still want to go out and win, so there’s pressure to do that. You get used to it.”
Burton was 2-under through 16 holes before some unlucky bounces left him even for the day. His approach at No. 7 landed 2 feet under the hole, but it rolled down a slope, leaving him to two-putt for par. Burton missed the green on the par-3 eighth, but managed to save par with a chip shot that fell a foot short.
Burton’s tee shot on No. 9 clipped a tree leaf, bounced onto the cart path and out of bounds, forcing him to hit again. His second shot off the tee landed in a fairway bunker, and Burton finished with a double-bogey on the par-5.
“I made too many mistakes late, but I still have a chance (today),” he said. “It’s just a matter of executing.”
Former Harrison golfer Patrick Garrett (75) is 5-over and tied for 28th, while Kennesaw’s Daniel Kim (75), Kennesaw Mountain senior Jonathan Keppler (81), former Kennesaw State golfer Jonathan Klotz (81) and Brookston Golf and Country club pro Craig Stevens (72) are all 7-over.
Former Kell golfer Zach Lindsey is 11-over, with Acworth’s Rob French 12-over, former Kell golfer Michael Hines 13-over and Marietta’s Brian Dixon 14-over.