Weaver Posts Third-Round 68 to Pull Three Shots Ahead at Eighth Annual Southern Open
By Stewart Moore
Kannapolis, NC – eGolf Tour leading money winner Drew Weaver of High Point, NC overcame a sluggish opening nine on Friday morning at the eGolf Tour’s eighth annual Southern Open with a solid 3-under 33 on the back nine to post a 3-under 68 and reach 16-under 197 on the week. With one win already under his belt in 2012, Weaver will take a three-shot lead into Saturday’s final round with an eye on notching win No. 2, and pushing his single-season earnings over the vaunted $100,000 mark.
The Southern Open is the 15th event of the 2012 eGolf Tour season, and is being contested this week at both The Club at Irish Creek in Kannapolis, NC and the Country Club of Salisbury in Salisbury, NC.
Entering Friday’s third round at the Davis Love III-designed Club at Irish Creek, all tournament buzz surrounded the record-setting 59 carded by Bermuda’s Michael Sims in Thursday’s second round at the Country Club of Salisbury. The magical performance, which pushed Sims’ name to the top of countless golf websites and social media outlets, put the former University of Rhode Island golfer just one shot behind Weaver at 12-under par through 36 holes.
On the front nine of round three, it was Weaver who struck first with an early birdie at the par-4 second to move to 14-under par, three shots clear of Sims, who had posted a bogey on the straightway hole.
Birdies on Nos. 3, 5 and 7 by Sims pushed him into a tie with Weaver at 14-under par, and when Weaver bogeyed the par-3 eighth, Sims assumed a one-shot lead in the tournament.
But that was the last time he would hold the lead.
A bogey by Sims at the par-4 ninth brought the two even at 13-under heading to the difficult back nine at Irish Creek, where Weaver shined.
A solid approach to 15 feet by Weaver on the par-4 10th took the former Virginia Tech star to 14-under par, but still tied with Sims, who notched a birdie of his own on the hole.
On the par-5 13th, an unlucky break from the tee left Weaver in a right-side fairway bunker, which forced him to lay up on the usually-reachable hole. A solid wedge shot from 115 yards for his third left Weaver with a makeable birdie try, which he converted to take the tournament’s outright lead for the first time since his bogey at No. 8 dropped him one behind Sims.
“That was big for me, to pick up that birdie on 13,” said Weaver, 25. “I was trying not to worry too much about what Sims was doing. There were so many guys that could be in contention, that it was best for me to worry about my own game.”
A bogey by Sims at that same 13th hole put the two competitors two shots apart with five holes to play.
On Thursday afternoon, Weaver made his first bogey of the tournament at the downhill par-3 15th at Irish Creek. On Friday, the 2007 British Amateur champion got one back, draining a 20-foot birdie putt to reach 16-under par, at that point three shots clear of the field.
Sims, who had birdied the par-5 14th to get within one of Weaver, bogeyed the 15th to fall three shots behind the tournament’s 18- and 36-hole leader.
On the final three holes at Irish Creek – one of the hardest closing stretches on the eGolf Tour – Weaver and Sims posted matching pars to wind up in the house at 16-under and 13-under, respectively.
“I was happy to get those pars there at the end,” said Weaver. “You’re looking at two 480-yard par-4s (16-17) and a par-3 that requires a wood off the tee (18) – it’s just a tough finish.”
Rounds of 62-67-68-197 have Weaver on the precipice of win No. 2 in 2012, dating back to a hometown victory at the tour’s Willow Creek Open in his native High Point just two months ago.
That win, his second on the eGolf Tour, came in the middle of a stretch of golf that has the 2009 U.S. Walker Cup team member playing without doubt the best golf of any developmental tour player in the country.
The Willow Creek win was preceded by a T2 finish at the tour’s Columbia Open, and was followed in successive weeks by a T8 at the River Hills Classic and a playoff loss to Web.com Tour member Matt Harmon at the HGM Hotels Classic at Rock Barn. A runner-up at the Bolle Classic in June gave way to another runner-up the following week at the Spring Creek Classic, and out of nowhere, Weaver’s 2012 season had gone from so-so to phenomenal.
The stellar run has Weaver at No. 1 on the tour’s money list with earnings of $77,813, nearly $16,000 clear of his nearest pursuer, Pine Needles Classic winner Kevin Foley.
A win tomorrow at the Southern Open would come with a winner’s share of $24,000, which in turn would push Weaver’s single-season earnings over the $100,000 mark – something that has not been lost on the current Sea Island (GA) resident.
“It’s been a goal of mine the past three years out here, to get over that hump,” said Weaver of the six-figure plateau. “There is certainly a long way to go and a lot of events left out here, but it would really be a cool thing.”
While Weaver was able to pull away somewhat on Irish Creek’s closing nine, he is well aware of the players behind him, who figure they have to go deep into the red to catch the tour’s hottest player. With 13 players within six shots of his lead, Weaver knows that anything can happen – even to a guy who is 97-under par in his last 25 rounds, as he is.
“There are a bunch of guys that can go low, so I’m going to stick to my smart-but-aggressive play that has been working well,” he said. “I just want to keep the pedal down and keep pushing, and from there see what happens.”
Sims, for his part, wound up in a four-way tie for second place at 13-under 200 following a 1-under 70 on Friday afternoon. The laid back former Web.com Tour member has just one eGolf Tour win under his belt – the 2008 Spring Creek Classic – but a bevy of experience to draw on from his day’s on the PGA TOUR’s developmental circuit.
Sims made 94 career starts on the Web.com Tour, collecting four top-10 finishes and $184,295 in earnings. His best finish was a tie for ninth, recorded three times, at the 2011 Price Cutter Charity Championship, the 2009 Chitimacha Louisiana Open and the 2009 Preferred Health Systems Wichita Open.
Tied for second alongside Sims at 13-under are four-time eGolf Tour winner Dustin Bray of Asheboro, NC, Clark Klaasen of Grand Rapids, MI and Chip Lynn of Lillington, NC.
Bray, the tour’s leading money winner in 2006 following a breakout three-win season, opened his week with rounds of 70-65, and added yet another 6-under effort on Friday with three birdies and an eagle over his last eight holes to post back-to-back 65s in order to reach the 13-under mark.
The former UNC Tar Heel star and Web.com Tour member has been a study in consistency in 2012, having now made 11 of 12 cuts on the year, with eight top-15 finishes to his name. A veritable ATM throughout his time on the eGolf Tour, Bray is currently 22nd on the tour’s money list with $23,733 in earnings.
A win tomorrow, should it come to fruition, would be Bray’s first on tour since winning the Walnut Creek Open in the fall of 2009. At that event, Bray opened the week with a then-record-setting 60, which, of course, was eclipsed by Sims’ 59 on Thursday.
Klaasen, a former Duke golfer, matched Bray round for round this week, posting a 70-65-65 tournament line to play his way into Saturday’s final pairing.
Klaasen played brilliant golf for 17 holes in the third round, posting a birdie at the par-4 first and an eagle at the par-5 sixth en route to a 3-under 32 on his opening nine. On the back nine, he kept his foot on the proverbial gas with birdies at 11, 13, 14 and 16 to reach 14-under par on the week, tied for the lead with Weaver and Sims. At the difficult 18th, Klaasen recorded his first bogey in 41 holes of golf – dating back to the 12th hole of his opening round – to finish with a 6-under 65, at 13-under on the week.
Since picking up a career-best T2 finish at the Scratch Golf Classic last July, Klaasen has yet to record another top-25 finish in his 11 starts since. A brief three-event hiatus from the eGolf Tour in late May into early June has a refreshed Klaasen back on his game, and eyeing a first career win.
Lynn, one of the tour’s ironmen over the past three seasons, played his way up into the Weaver stratosphere on the back nine Friday with a birdie-eagle stretch on Nos. 13 and 14 that vaulted him to 15-under for the week. The sudden surge, however, would be short lived, as bogeys at 15 and 16 dropped him back down to 13-under par, where he finished following pars at 17 and 18. The third-round 67, however, gave Lynn rounds of 66-67-67 on the week, and put him just 18 holes away from his first eGolf Tour title.
Making his 28th start over the past two eGolf Tour seasons, Lynn is peaking at just the right time. After failing to notch a single top-10 in the first 25 events of that stretch, Lynn entered the week in Kannapolis on the heels of T6 and T10 finishes in his last two starts, and looks poised to capitalize on his opportunity.
The final round of the Southern Open will begin at 8:00 AM on Saturday morning at Irish Creek, with players competing in threesomes off of Nos. 1 and 10 tees. The tournament is open to the public and free of charge.