PINEHURST, NC (7-1-2015) -- When you come all the way from Arizona to play at Pinehurst No. 2, you want to make it count. After yesterday, leader and Tucson resident George Cunningham had a four shot lead and had to feel good about where he stood going into the final round of stroke play on Wednesday.
It started out that way as today’s round was much like his first two, but he failed to capture the magic that helped him make eight birdies in the first two days. In fact, Cunningham failed to post a red number all day as he carded three bogeys on the round to go with his 15 pars. It hardly matters in the long run, because he still finished the three days of stroke play with a 1-stroke lead over Ohio State's Clark Engle to become medalist.
Engle was hoping to keep the hot streak going that he started yesterday on his way to a 5-under par 65, 13 shots better than his previous day, and good enough to vault him into second place. After a par on the first hole, he birdied Nos. 2 and 3 to give himself a great chance, but a bogey on No. 8 and a double on No. 11 derailed his hopes of earning the top seed for match play. A late birdie on the par-3 15th hole was too-little-too-late, but having a hot hand going into the brackets is a big advantage.
First round leader Chad Merzbacher, from Minneapolis, was the only person to post an under-par round as he finished the day with a 1-under 69. Other notables making the cut include Will Grimmer of Cincinnati, who in the 2013 North & South Jr. shot a 59 on Pinehurst No. 1, and Andrew Novak, who had to fight for the last available spot.
The sixteenth and final spot was a real battle. Six players were in contention for it, including Novak, Davis (Dru) Love IV, Duke’s Adam Wood, Duke recruit Alex Smalley, J.D. Dornes and Lee Hodges.
The playoff began on 14, with Novak, Hodges and Smalley the only ones to make par and advance to the next hole. After all three walk away with pars on the par-3 15th, they all carded a par on 16, but not without difficulty. Both Novak and Hodges had to save par by getting up-and-down from greenside bunkers, while Smalley missed a 12-foot putt for birdie.
On No. 17, Novak was first to putt from 30 feet, and sunk it as he pumped his fist into the air. Hodges missed his 25-footer, and Smalley could not sink his putt, leaving Novak to advance to match play as the 16th seed.
He and the others will advance to the match play rounds, all played on Pinehurst No. 2. The championship will be decided with semifinal and final matches on Friday.