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Maverick McNealy maintains lead heading into final round of United Leasing Championship
Maverick McNealy holds a one shot lead heading into the final round of the United Leasing & Finance Championship.
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NEWBURGH — If Maverick McNealy plays like he did for most of the round Saturday, the rest of the field might not catch him.
Mind you, the 22-year-old didn’t exactly light the scorecard on fire. He simply managed to grind his way through the course better than most of his competitors. But sometimes, Victoria National Golf Club got the best of him too.
McNealy posted a two-over par 74 in the third round to hold a one-shot lead at 5-under heading into the final round of the United Leasing & Finance Championship.
“Every shot was a grind,” he said. “It was a really challenging. In the end, it was just picking good targets. Holes that were the same direction, knowing that I hit a 6-iron on another hole means I should probably hit 5. That stuff helped a lot.”
Victoria National showed its teeth in the third round. With the wind picking up to gusts over 20 miles per hour, the greens firmed up and were slick. Squares on the card were more common Saturday than circles.
McNealy was content to make par and move on. The Stanford University alum made three birdies and two bogeys in his first 13 holes to move to 8-under for the tournament.
He nearly gave away a shot at the par-4 No. 14, but hit a long iron from 220 yards to two feet to save par. McNealy then sank a 25-footer on the next hole to save another shot. However, he finally hit a snag on the brutal stretch of 17 and 18 with a double bogey-bogey finish.
“I hit a great 3-wood (on 17) and the wind gusted it a bit strong,” said McNealy. “I got what I thought was a bad lie in the rough and it came out hot. I made a good putt that just didn’t go in. That is why the course is so challenging. I don’t think I want to change anything.”
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This is by far McNealy’s best performance on the Web.com Tour this season. He had made four cuts in four previous tournaments but had not finished higher than tied for 33rd. And that came last week in Mississippi.
He seems to have found whatever he was missing this week. McNealy grabbed the lead with a first round 64 (one shot off the tournament record) and has not given it up.
“To me, tomorrow is just another round of golf,” he said. “But that does not mean I don’t get nervous. The only time I have thrown up before golf being nervous was my first day of qualifying my freshman year at Stanford. It is going to be a fun day tomorrow. I know there is going to be a lot of guys coming for me.”
A handful of players are right behind the leader heading into Sunday. José de Jesús Rodríguez got within one shot after a birdie on 15 but fell behind with back-to-back bogeys to finish the round.
Ethan Tracy and Rodriguez are the closest to McNealy at 4-under. Tracy, a 28-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, had three bogeys in his first seven holes before finally getting birdies to drop on 8, 9 and 13. He saved bogey on the last after a delicate chip across the green to shoot a 74.
He and several others described the conditions as challenging.
“Today was playing hard,” said Tracy. “With this wind, it gets hard to hold the green and get your distance correct. I was happy with a lot of pars. It means a lot (to be in contention). I haven’t played all that well lately, but I am coming around.”
Taylor Moore and Chris Thompson are now two shots back at 3-under. Brad Drewitt, Scott Langley and Sebastain Cappelen are still in contention at 2-under. Only eight players were under par in the third round.
But as the final holes showed, anything can happen at Victoria National. Double or even triple bogey is possible on the majority of the layout.
“It was obviously challenging with the wind,” said Moore. “But it is still a golf course. You still have to hit fairways and greens and execute. Get off to hot start tomorrow with a few birdies and put a little pressure on them.”
Follow Courier & Press sports reporter Kyle Sokeland on Twitter @kylesokeland.
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