Silver Lakes assistant pro Brennan Clay and Dan Glidewell shot 13-under-par 59 Saturday in their modified scramble round at Cider Ridge Golf Club for a two-day total of 29-under 115.
It was good for a one-shot overnight lead on the strongest field in the history of the tournament, but the lead is anything but comfortable. The players hottest on their heels know a thing or two about winning Sunny King Charity Classic titles.
Sitting only one stroke back are the teams of Jeremy McGatha-Jaylon Ellison — the defending champions — and Gary Wigington-Randy Reaves. Together, they’ve won eight of the last 12 King Classics — nine of the last 15 if you count the one Reaves won in 1997 with Jeff Russell.
One shot behind them is Cory Etter and Marcus Harrell, who won two Classic crowns with Ott Chandler in 2008 and 2010, and yet another shot back are Hank Smith and Patrick Cushman, who won five titles with Eric Hamilton between 1994 and 1999.
It will all shake out in today’s best-ball round for the championship flight at Anniston Country Club. Clay-Glidewell and Wigington-Reaves are paired in the final group of the day starting at 12:45 p.m., with Etter-Harrell and Ellison-McGatha playing in the penultimate group at 12:36 p.m.
“I like it, since we have a shot at it; it’s a lot more fun,” Harrell said.
“A lot of people come out on Sunday and watch, and it’s a lot more fun if there are a lot of teams involved.
“In a couple of the years that we’ve played it, we’ve had some teams run away and there’s just not as much excitement around the course. But when it’s real tight, it’s the most fun tournament around.”
Clay and Glidewell vaulted to the top of the leaderboard with a big finish for the second day in a row.
After scoring only one birdie in their first four holes, including an adventurous par on the par-3 third, they played their last 14 holes in 12-under. They left a birdie putt on 18 for 30-under one inch short.
They birdied their last 10 holes in a row in Friday’s first round.
At the third, Clay hit his tee shot in the water left of the green, and Glidewell hit his just 40 yards. Clay teed up a mulligan and hit that in the water.
Because it was a modified scramble, both players got to hit from Glidewell’s spot. Glidewell responded by hitting it to three feet. Clay hit his shot 20 feet short, then, thinking it was a regular scramble, picked up his ball, taking him out of the hole. Fortunately for the team, Glidewell made the putt for par.
“(Friday’s) was a little better stretch,” Clay said. “We knew what the lead was (when they began) and we cut it. (Saturday), after that par (on 3), we didn’t do anything stupid. We sat in the cart on 4 and said we don’t need to have that again.”
From there, they had 10 birdies, three pars and an eagle.
“It really doesn’t have anything to do with the end of a round, we just don’t get off to a good start,” Glidewell said. “When you’re 1- or 2-(under) after four, you’ve got to do something or you’ll be out of the tournament. I guess we play better under pressure.”
There certainly will be plenty of that today.
Wigington and Reaves threw up the best round of the day — a 14-under 58 that included eagles by Wigington on both par-5s on the back. Wigington also drove the green on No. 7 from the back tee to set up a two-putt birdie.
The eagle on 15 came after he hit his approach from 137 yards to 15 feet. He made a 45-foot putt for the eagle on 18.
“Gary played really well,” Reaves said. “He hit the ball well and when he starts making putts, it’s something to see.
When we shot 14 (Friday) and were still three back, we knew we had to really play well to have a shot at it.”
McGatha and Ellison might have gone into the final day with the lead if they hadn’t, as McGatha described, “run into a brick wall” coming down the stretch.
They didn’t birdie any of the last three holes. They were 12-under through 15 holes, but both missed the green on 16, Ellison missed a sweeping seven-foot putt for birdie on 17 and both missed putts from inside 12 feet on 18.
“We definitely didn’t have our A game today,” Ellison said. “We’ll definitely be hungry going into tomorrow because we didn’t play our best golf.”
Etter and Harrell also endured a slow start before turning it on at the end. They birdied only one of their first four holes and then played their next seven holes in 7-under with two eagles in a three-hole stretch. Etter called it the most important stretch of the day because it got them going.
They slowed down again with pars on 12 and 13 and then birdied four of their last five holes. Harrell nearly holed his chip from below the green for eagle on 18 that would have pulled them into a three-way tie for second.
“That’s something you never want to have to do, especially when you’re trailing by two entering the day; you don’t ever want to start off slow,” Harrell said. “I don’t feel like we played our best today, but we’re happy to be within two shots of the lead.”
Etter delivered the eagle on 9 with a putt from off the green and they used two mulligans to make a 2 on 11 after Etter’s first putt circled the hole.
“In this tournament, you make one or two pars in a row and you feel like you’re out of it because there are so many good players and so many good teams,” Etter said. “I’m just glad we’re in the hunt. I think we gave ourselves a real good spot for (Sunday).”
Wigington and Reaves might have posted the best score of the day, but perhaps the most electric round belonged to Smith and Cushman. They made four eagles — two on par-4s. They played the last six holes on the front in 6-under and the last six on the back in 7-under.
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.