Hadley Begins to Pull Away from River Landing Field With Third-Round 67
By Stewart Moore
Wallace, NC – For two-and-a-half years, Chesson Hadley of Raleigh, NC has wondered when his first eGolf Tour title might present itself. That title, quite possibly, could arrive in the form of a runaway victory on Saturday afternoon at the tour’s inaugural River Landing Open. A 5-under 67 in Friday’s third round took Hadley to 16-under 200 for the week, and gave him a five-shot lead heading into tomorrow’s fourth and final round, just 18 holes away from that elusive first win.
The River Landing Open is the 16th event of the 2012 eGolf Tour season, and is being contested this week on the River Course at River Landing Country Club in Wallace, NC.
Hadley, a three-time “All America” selection during a standout career at Georgia Tech, entered Friday’s round on the heels of a 65-68—133 start to his week, and in possession of a two-shot lead over former eGolf Tour leading money winner David Robinson. Looking to win his first career tour title, Hadley began in slow fashion – as he did in Thursday’s second round – with three pars and a bogey in his first four holes.
Staying in Wilmington, NC for the week, Hadley has spent each morning commuting 50 minutes to and from River Landing. That drive, he said, has taken its toll early in the round.
“I’m just tired at the start of each round, I really can’t shake the feeling,” Hadley said after the second round. “It just takes me a few holes to wake up, but once I do, I’m pretty focused.”
Hadley’s focus took full effect at the par-5 fifth, where for the second consecutive day, he ended his sluggish start with a birdie to pull back to even par for the round. After adding another birdie at the par-5 seventh, Hadley turned at 1-under for the day and 12-under for the week, two shots clear of the field.
On the back nine, the 25-year-old took command of the golf tournament in an attempt to run and hide from the field. A birdie at the par-4 11th gave way to birdies on 12 and 13, and suddenly, Hadley has moved to 15-under for the week – three shots clear of Brian Duncan, his nearest competitor.
“I hit it to 5 feet on each of those three holes and converted each one for birdie, that was a big turn in the round for me,” Hadley said.
The trifecta of birdies set in motion a solid finish for Hadley, who pared Nos. 14 through 16 before making a 25-foot birdie bomb on the par-3 17th to reach 16-under par, five shots clear of Duncan, who had posted 11-under in the house.
At the scenic par-4 18th, the charismatic former Yellow Jacket hit a perfect approach, which garnered a yell of “Be sexy” while the ball was in mid-air. Hadley, known for his fun-loving mannerisms on the course, could not convert the last birdie, but rather finished with a par to polish off a third-round 67 – the low round of the day.
Hadley’s 5-under effort on day three has him five shots clear of Duncan, and seven shots clear of Robinson and Argentina’s Alan Wagner, heading into Saturday’s final round.
“Playing with a lead is about as hard as it gets,” Hadley said. “The key for me tomorrow is to hit some good shots early and get in a rhythm. I don’t care if I make a bogey, I just want to get off to a good start.”
A good start, ideally one that betters his 4-over-through-four start to rounds two and three, will give Hadley a fairly straight path to his first eGolf Tour title – something that has evaded him through two-and-a-half years on the country’s No. 3 professional tour.
In June of 2010, Hadley nearly claimed his first win in just his second eGolf Tour start when he battled current PGA TOUR members Tommy Biershenk and Jason Kokrak at the Bushnell Championship near Pinehurst, NC, before losing to Kokrak on the 72nd hole.
A runner-up at the Samanah Classic in Morocco was the highlight of his 2011 sophomore campaign on tour, as were third-place finishes at the Southern Open and Cabarrus Classic.
At the tour’s inaugural Championship at Wintergreen Resort three weeks ago, Hadley dueled alongside good friend Peter Malnati throughout much of the event’s final round, before coming up one-shot short of Malnati en route to his third career runner-up finish on tour.
“I’m sure I’ve had a lead like this before at some point, but it has probably been since junior golf,” said Hadley of his five-shot cushion. “The best thing for me to do will be to keep my foot on the gas. Like Ben Hogan said, the goal is to shoot the low score each day.”
At times, however, Hadley’s struggles have come in the final round. In 13 final rounds played on the year, he has broken 70 just five times – with three rounds posted at 76 or higher.
On Saturday, a comfortable pairing alongside Duncan and Wagner might provide just the tranquil setting needed for the affable Hadley to notch victory No. 1.
“I’ve played a decent bit this year with Brian and in the past with Alan and enjoy playing with each,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to the round. I just need to have some fun, whatever happens.”
Hadley is currently fifth on the eGolf Tour money list with $52,210 in earnings, courtesy of four top-5 finishes and 14 consecutive made cuts – including this week’s event in Wallace.
“I feel like I’m ready to win out here,” said Hadley earlier in the week. “I’ve been working hard, so I feel certain it’s going to happen – whether it’s here or somewhere down the road.”
Duncan, a current Web.com Tour member and former Clemson University standout, was the event’s 18-hole co-leader alongside Hadley after posting a 7-under 65 on Wednesday. A second-round 72 dropped the Mount Pleasant, SC resident four shots behind Hadley, but a fast start to round three had him back in position throughout much of the afternoon on Friday.
Birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 provided an ideal start for Duncan, and moved the Greenville, SC native to 9-under for the week. A birdie at No. 5 would be negated by a bogey at No. 7, but when Duncan birdied the par-4 ninth, he turned at 3-under for the day and 10-under overall – then just two shots behind Hadley.
On the closing nine, Duncan reached 12-under par with birdies at 13 and 15, but gave one back with a bogey at the par-4 16th to fall to 11-under – where he finished after pars on 17 and 18 gave him a third-round 68.
Much like Hadley, Duncan is looking for win No. 1 as well on the eGolf Tour. Thus far in 2012, Duncan has been a veritable study in consistency, with nine made cuts in nine starts and five top-25 finishes to his name.
Robinson, who hails from Sandersville, GA, and Wagner, originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina, are tied for third at 9-under 207 – a chasm-like seven shots behind Hadley.
Robinson, a three-time eGolf Tour winner and leading money winner in 2008, is still looking for his first win since that magical year when he became the first tour player to break the $100,000 mark in single-season earnings. The River Landing Open represents his 54th start since picking up his third win in 2008. In the years between, Robinson made 16 starts as a conditional member of the Web.com Tour, posting one top-25 finish – a T17 at the 2010 Wichita Open.
During off weeks in 2012, and occasionally opposite of events, Robinson has spent time caddying for brother-in-law Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey on the PGA TOUR. The two players, who married sisters, have formed a nice relationship on TOUR, whereby Robinson can pick up a loop if need be to help ends meet, in turn bringing him a bit closer to a fourth win – which would tie him with Gainey, who has four of his own on the eGolf Tour.
Wagner spent the majority of 2011 away from his native Argentina and competing on the eGolf Tour. The 22-year-old from Buenos Aires recorded four top-25 finishes in his rookie year on tour, and has since followed it up with two more in 2012 – including a career-best T7 at the Columbia Open in May. Both of Wagner’s top-10s on the eGolf Tour came in Columbia, with this year’s T7 and a T8 in the event’s 2011 edition.
In 2008, Wagner burst onto the golf scene with a win at the Peru Open – an event sanctioned by the Tour de las Americas. That breakthrough victory gave way to an even more prestigious title the following year, when Wagner posted rounds of 68-71-68-68—275 to win the Challenge Tour’s Club Colombia Masters, defeating European Ryder Cup team member Edoardo Molinari by one shot.
Final-round play in the River Landing Open will begin at 7:30 AM on Saturday morning at River Landing C.C. with players competing in threesomes off of Nos. 1 and 10 tees. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.