Miles Russell said there’s a way he handles hot streaks on the golf course.
“Stay on as long as you can,” he said on Saturday after vaulting out to a four-shot lead in the 17th Junior Players Championship, at the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. “Keep hitting good shots.”
The 14-year-old Jacksonville Beach resident, who is second on the American Junior Golf Association’s Polo Rankings, rode that horse in the second round until it bucked.
Russell began the day two shots behind 18-hole leader Nicholas Gross and with birdies on his first four holes, took the lead for good. Russell flirted with the course record of 63 when he birdied eight of his first 12 holes and weathered his only bogeys of the day at Nos. 5 and 8 to shoot 66 and finish at 8-under-par 136 entering Sunday’s final round.
Tour winner’s son in contention
Jackson Byrd of St. Simons Island, Ga., the son of five-time PGA Tour winner Jonathan Byrd, birdied the 18th hole and shot 69 to join Billy Davis (68) of Spring Valley, Calif., in a tie for second at 4-under 140.
Phillip Dunham of Ponte Vedra Beach (70) had a roller-coaster ride on the Stadium Course with seven birdies and five bogeys, but two of his birdies were on the final two holes as he secured solo fourth at 3-under.
Blades Brown (73) of Nashville, Tenn., and William Hartman (70) of Marvin, N.C., are tied for fifth at 2-under.
Tyler Mawhinney (74) of Fleming Island was even-par with two holes to play but doubled the par-3 17th hole, thanks to a tee shot in the water surrounding the Island Green. He’s tied for seventh at 1-under.
Birdie at 18 highlighted Russell’s day
Russell, who recently won the Junior PGA and is seeking his third AJGA victory of the season, got his round off to a relatively modest start with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 11th hole. He dropped an eight-footer for birdie at No. 13, drained a 25-footer at No. 15, made another easy two-putt birdie at a par-5, No. 16.
Russell then got a bonus birdie: blocked out when he hit his tee shot at No. 18 too close to the trees on the right, the left-hander punched out a low 5-iron that raced up the fairway and rolled onto the green, coming to rest 5 feet from a front-left hole placement.
He made the putt for a 5-under 31 on the back.
Junior Players, round one: First Coast residents overcome early mishaps to get into contention
“Getting a birdie at No. 18 is good no matter how you do it,” Russell said.
After a brief interlude with a par at No. 1, Russell continued attacking with birdies on his next three holes, on putts of 10, 12 and 5 feet.
His run ended with a bogey at No. 5, after he pushed his second shot into the left bunker. The ball was sitting on a downslope at the back of the trap and he skulled his sand shot over the green, then missed a 30-foot par attempt.
Relying on a hot putter
Russell made safe two-putts at the next two holes but bogeyed the par-3 eighth when he missed short and left and failed to get up and down.
He also missed a chance to birdie the par-5 ninth when his third shot landed on top of the bank near another front-left pin, and rolled back down. But Russell finished on a good note, chipping to 3 feet and making par to preserve the low round of the tournament so far.
Russell said his week so far in the Junior Players is a continuation of what’s worked this summer: solid putting, with his work on the greens made pressure-free by hitting fairways and attacking the greens.
“If you hit fairways and give yourself a good look, it makes putting easier,” he said.
Dunham: A six-par day
To say Dunham had an interesting day was an understatement. He bogeyed his first hole. He birdied the next two on short putts. He added another birdie at the 16th and turned one shot off the lead.
Dunham then dropped all of his shots with bogeys at Nos. 1, 2 and 3. But just when it looked like a disaster was in the making, he chipped in for birdie at No. 4, dropped a 25-footer for birdie at No. 6 and rallied from a bogey at the seventh with birdie putts of 12 and 6 feet to finish.
“The driver was really good all week and then it just started to get loose,” Dunham said. “I had to calm down and re-set.”
Dunham said he’s played more than 20 rounds at the Stadium Course and hopes his familiarity will help in the final round.
“I’m comfortable with a lot of the shots that are a little difficult and know how the greens slope,” he said.
Russell and Dunham will be trying to become the first First Coast residents to win the Junior Players, which began in 2007. The best finish was Bud Cauley of Jacksonville in the inaugural tournament, tying for third, seven shots behind winner Morgan Hoffmann.
Best First Coast finishes in Junior Players
Bud Cauley, Jacksonville
Tie for third
Julian Suri, St. Augustine
Tie for eighth
A.J. Crouch, Jacksonville
Tie for seventh
Camden Smith, Ponte Vedra
Tie for fifth
This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Miles Russell uses torrid birdie streak to take charge in Junior Players