A year ago, he shot rounds of 66-70 in the first two days and was three shots off the lead going into the final round before rallying to win it in a playoff. Today, after shooting a 2-under-par 70 in Saturday’s second round at Cane Creek Golf Course, those same scores have the defending champion at 8-under 136 and three shots ahead.
“It’s harder to come from behind, there’s no doubt,” Wigington said. “A two- or three-shot lead, whatever it may be, is definitely better, easier, than coming from two back.
“This course can yield some high numbers. Five or six shots can change in a day on this course, playing the way we were playing it today. With a two-shot lead, it’s definitely better than being down two.”
The 70 — one of only two rounds on the day under par (Matt Rogers had a 71) — and the course being stretched to over 7,000 yards, some 600 yards longer than in qualifying, helped Wigington swap places with Ott Chandler on the leaderboard.
Chandler entered the day with a one-shot lead, but posted a 2-over 74 and fell three shots back at 139.
Jaylon Ellison is third at 141, followed by Rogers at 142. Clay Calkins and Alfonso Otoya are tied for fifth at even-par 144.
Given the conditions, the leader may be hard to catch.
“If you’re under par here for three rounds, your chances of winning are real good — especially the last two days,” Wigington said. “Anything under par the way it’s set up today — and I’m sure the way it’ll be tomorrow — will be a good round.”
Wigington wasted little time assaulting the lead. He gained a share with the first of his four birdies on No. 2, then took it outright — and kept it — with an up-and-down from the hedgerow for par on No. 3 to Chandler’s bogey.
He picked up another shot with a birdie at 5 and another on Chandler’s bogey at 7. He had a two-shot lead at the turn.
The lead went to three shots with a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 12th and swelled to four despite making bogey on the 13th as Chandler’s 5-iron approach sailed into trouble over the green, setting up a double.
In Friday’s qualifying round, Chandler hit a gap wedge into that gree.
Both pace-setters made birdie on 14, with Chandler plodding his way up the fairway and Wigington seeing his eagle putt horseshoe around the hole.
“My short game saved me a lot of strokes today, but as long as it’s playing I get a lot of short shots because I’ve got so far in,” Chandler said. “Twig outdrove me 80 and 90 yards on those two par-5s. You just can’t make up that stuff.
“I have to play perfect golf to beat him on his regular day, because he just overpowers it. I knew that was going to happen before we teed off today. But I’m only three back. I make some putts tomorrow, I might be right in it; you never know.”
Wigington dropped shot with a bogey from the bush on 15. Chandler nudged closer with a birdie on 17, cutting the lead to two, then gave the stroke back with a bogey on the par-5 18th.
Chandler is the last player to successfully defend the County title, winning the event in 2005 and 2006, the first two years it was played at Cane Creek after moving from Anniston Municipal.
If Wigington seals the deal today, he will become one of only four players to win the event at least four times and should clinch a spot in next month’s County Match Play Championship. If Chandler wins, he’ll join that club of four-time winners and could claim County Player of the Year.
Calhoun County Tour points leader Jeremy McGatha is currently ninth, 13 shots back. After shooting 77 Saturday, he realizes he has some work to do if he wants to win Player of the Year honors for the second time in three years.
“Thirteen back, the tournament’s basically over so now I just have to come out and see what happens,” he said. “Play as best I can and hope the points fall. The way I feel right now, I’d be blessed if that happened, because it’s not going well for me.”
Meanwhile, the leader is not getting ahead of himself.
“It’s just one day at a time,” Wigington said. “Just try to play as good as you possibly can.”
Al Muskewitz covers golf for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.