Finnell fashions big finish
Skyler Finnell finished off another solid round of golf, went through the process of verifying his score card under a canopy just off the green, then dutifully gave a couple of polished interviews.
Moments after the last one, he grabbed his bag and, grinning broadly, turned to his mother.
"How'd you like that eagle on nine?" he gushed.
She must have liked it, for she had a high-five waiting.
Finnell, of Carmel, Calif., went from challenger to co-leader with a couple long balls and one swipe of his putter late Wednesday to close the second round of the American Junior Golf Association tournament at Centennial Golf Club.
Finnell's 20-foot birdie putt on the par-5 ninth hole — his 18th — dropped his score to 69 and put him in a tie with Lawrence Fu, of Piedmont, Calif., who shot the same number in the morning session.
It was the second straight 3-under round for each on the 7,155-yard layout, leaving them at 6 under and one shot ahead of Andrew Morgan, of Long Beach, Calif. Morgan had shared the boys first-day lead in the 54-hole, stroke-play tournament.
Eugene's Sulman Raza, the co-leader after Day 1, dropped a couple shots to par and was at 2 under. Medford's Dylan Wu recorded a 75, leaving him in a tie for 29th place at 4-over 148 heading into today's final round.
Catherina Li, of Kent, Wash., took control of the Girls Division with a 69, putting her at 5 under. She leads Allisen Corpuz, of Honolulu, by two shots. Corpuz also crafted a 69. The only other subpar score for two rounds was by Amy Lee, of Brea, Calif., who got to 1 under.
A cut to the top 50 percent and ties was made after the second round. The cut line was 153 for the boys and 158 for the girls.
There were 106 boys and 33 girls the first two days.
Finnell, who will be a senior in high school, has yet to make a bogey, and he made certain not to flirt with one on his dramatic last hole, measuring 567 yards.
With a breeze at his back, he uncorked a 300-yard drive, then knifed a cut 3-wood at the hole dug into the green's front quadrant. He was unfazed by a slight right-to-left break.
"I firmed it in there," said Finnell, who tied for ninth here last year. "It would have been about five feet past, so it was with authority. We'll take it."
Several times he had makable putts that refused to cooperate.
"It was weird. I was hitting the ball better today than yesterday," he said. "I was hitting my iron shots a lot closer, but I really wasn't making that many putts in the beginning. I knew if I kept grinding away, they'd start to drop."
He birdied his seventh hole, the par-5 16th, by getting up and down, then had nothing but pars until the end.
Finnell, who counts his driving ability as his strength, began the day one shot shy of the leaders.
"I liked being just a little back, seeing those guys in front of me," he said, "because you don't want to get content where you're at. Seeing someone in front of you, it's kind of someone you want to chase."
He plans to adopt the same strategy today from the front of the pack.
"I don't care if I'm tied or leading," he said. "I'm gonna try to gun it."
Fu will be right there.
He started on No. 1 and made the turn at even par. He then birdied Nos. 11, 13 and 18, which is rated the second hardest hole on the course.
And he did so from the right rough.
"I haven't been driving it very well the last two days, which was interesting," said Fu, "because I felt like I've been hitting the ball pretty well. I have a lot of confidence in my putting, so even though I'm not driving the ball very well, I'm able to save par."
At the 472-yard, par-4 18th, he took less club than normal — an 8-iron — for his 175-yard approach.
"I thought I might catch a flyer," he said, adding that he tried to reduce the spin so the ball would kick forward at the green.
It did, trickling toward the pin and leaving him with a downhill 8-footer for a 33 on the back nine.
Fu has fared well in some tournaments, but the handful of AJGA events he's entered have been a bugaboo.
"For some reason, I've struggled in them," he said. "Maybe it's the traveling or I put a little too much pressure on myself. I'm just happy to be playing well now and want to make the most of this tournament."
Fu will be a senior and has talked with some college coaches. A win here would get their attention.
"It would be very beneficial," he said.
Finnell, Fu and Morgan will be in the final group, teeing off No. 1 at 9 a.m.
The lead girls group of Li, Corpuz and Lee goes off the same tee at 8:10.
Li began the day in second place, one stroke behind Alexandra Kaui, of Las Vegas. While Kaui shot 76 and dropped into a fifth-place tie, Li finished strong, with birdies on her final two holes.
Starting at No. 10, Li played the front side in even par. Her back-nine birdies were on hole Nos. 2, 8 and 9.
After finishing second at last week's W. Duncan MacMillan Classic at Rush Creek Golf Club in Maple Grove, Minn., Li said she's going into today's final round bent on earning her first AJGA victory.
"Tomorrow I'm going to stay in the present and try to shoot the course record," she said. "I mean, why not? I'm just going to relax and have fun."
The course record for women was set last year in this event when Elisabeth Bernabe, of Anaheim Hills, Calif., fashioned a 65 from the men's tees in the junior-amateur.
1, Skyler Finnell, Carmel, Calif., 69-69—138.
1, Lawrence Fu, Piedmont, Calif., 69-69—138.
3, Andrew Morgan, Long Beach, Calif., 68-71—139.
4, Shearn Chua, Beaumont, Calif., 71-69—140.
5, Frank Garber, Kirkland, Wash., 71-70—141.
6, Sulman Raza, Eugene, 68-74—142.
7, Clayton Madey, West Linn, 73-70—143.
7, David Won, Bothell, Wash., 72-71—143.
7, Trey Kidd, Honolulu, Hawaii, 70-73—143.
10, Andrej Bevins, Elk Grove, Calif., 73-71—144.
10, Spencer Mikles, Santa Barbara, Calif., 74-70—144.
10, Landon Brown, Santa Maria, Calif., 71-73—144.
10, Gregory Stanek, Bellevue, Neb., 73-71—144.
10, Poom Pattaropong, Hilton Head Island, S.C., 73-71—144.
29, Dylan Wu, Medford, 73-75—148
92, Cody Stoffel, Grants Pass, 80-80—160
100, Ryan Melnychuk, Grants Pass, 87-76—163.
1, Catherina Li, Kent, Wash., 70-69—139.
2, Allisen Corpuz, Honolulu, Hawaii, 72-69—141.
3, Amy Lee, Brea, Calif., 72-71—143.
4, Caroline Inglis, Eugene, 72-72—144.
5, Alexandra Kaui, Las Vegas, Nev., 69-76—145.
5, Stephanie Lau, Fullerton, Calif., 72-73—145.
7, Jocelyn Chia, La Crescenta, Calif., 74-72—146.
8, Marianne Li, Bellevue, Wash., 76-73—149.
9, Sara Scarlett, Woodland, Calif., 77-76—153.
10, Marissa Hinchman, Lodi, Calif., 78-76—154.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org