Chip Spratlin propelled himself into contention with a seven-under-par 65 and Mitchell Sutton used a hole-in-one to start a back-nine 30 that put him into the mix of the tournament in its 20th year at Elizabethton Golf Course.
They’ll still both be chasing Ratliff, who shot 68 to move to 10 under par. The East Tennessee State signee had opened with a 66.
“Putting was pretty rough today,” said Ratliff, who missed several birdie putts in his range. “I probably hit it better today than I did yesterday, but I can’t complain.”
The 68 left Ratliff 30 under par over his last six competitive rounds at Elizabethton. It also left him leading by two strokes over Spratlin and three over Sutton, who shot 67. Everybody else in the field was at least seven strokes out of the lead
“I just have to try to par or birdie every hole,” Ratliff said. “If I can go out and not make a bogey for 18 holes ...”
The tournament’s scoring record of 14 under par set in 2008 by Brad Robinson and equaled in 2011 by Carlson Cox could be in danger of falling today.
Spratlin missed a little birdie putt of his own at the par-four seventh hole, but got to five under par on the front nine. He bogeyed the 10th -- while Sutton was making his ace -- but managed to get a couple of more birdies coming in.
“That’s as good as I can play,” Spratlin said. “I hit a lot of good shots and putted pretty solid. I have no complaints. It was fun.”
Spratlin won the NCAA individual championship while playing for Auburn in 1995, Tiger Woods’ freshman year at Stanford. He has won several local tournaments since then, including the Tillinghast Invitational at Johnson City Country Club four times.
Sutton and Spratlin will join Ratliff in the final group today. They tee off at 1 p.m.
“Chip’s a great player,” Ratliff said. “I’m going to have to go out and shoot a number. I can’t go out and mosey around and par every hole and win. He’s gonna make me move. I think it’s going to be more fun that way.”
Sutton was looking anything but spectacular when he bogeyed the eighth and ninth holes to shoot 37 on the front nine.
He then took dead aim on the 150-yard 10th hole with a 9-iron. When the shot went in, the reaction from the folks following the final group was loud.
Spratlin didn’t actually see the ace. He missed the green left with his tee shot and was already on the move in his cart when Sutton’s ball was in the air.
“I’ve only had one in my life, but I’ve played with a bunch,” Spratlin said. “Maybe it’s my turn tomorrow. I’m actually a good person to play with if you want a hole-in-one. I bet I’ve played with seven or eight.”
Sutton, a junior at Milligan College who lives in Atlanta, added a birdie at the par-five 11th. He then eagled the par-five 14th when he stuck a 4-iron shot to five feet and made the putt.
“I took on some risk,” he said. “I said ‘Let’s do it.’ “
A birdie on the final hole finished off his back-nine 30.
“Stupid bogeys,” Sutton said of the eighth and ninth holes. “The hole-in-one erases those and kind of got the back nine kickstarted. Especially after a 37 on the front nine, that’s what I needed to get it going.”
Nine players were under par after two rounds. The field was cut to the low 30 plus ties and it took a score of 150 to qualify for the final round. Thirty-two players made the cut.
In the senior division, Elizabethton’s Tony Gouge was four under par after posting his second consecutive round of 70 to grab a two-stroke lead over Jeff Isaacs, whose 73 left him two under. Ronnie Breeden was third at one under.
First-round leader Marc Runyan, who opened with a 68, shot 80.
“This is the first time I’ve ever led a tournament like this,” Gouge said. “I’ve been in second a few times. It feels good. I’ve been playing pretty good.
“I know I’ll be a little nervous, but I feel pretty at home on this course.”
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