Just when the Tennessee golf team’s hold on first place began to appear a little tenuous, a brief flash of brilliance put it back on top.
The Vols played a two-hole stretch in seven under par Saturday and retained the lead at the 15th annual Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at Blackthorn Club.
Tennessee was at nine-under-par 567 through 36 holes and will begin today’s final round with a three-stroke lead over Virginia.
“They persevered really well today,” Tennessee coach Jim Kelson said. “We had a couple of bad holes there. We were playing pretty good and that kind of knocked us back. But they really did a good job of hanging in and staying positive and grinding away.”
The Vols began the day tied for the lead with Memphis and pulled away early. But a rough stretch in the middle of the round, where they made three double bogeys, put them in danger of a free fall.
Then they got to the 14th and 15th holes and the fun began. The par-5 14th is usually the easiest hole on the course, and Tennessee showed why.
Jay Vandeventer birdied both of the holes. Thomas Dunne added an eagle at the 14th and Mike Nagy eagled No. 14 and birdied No 15 in a stretch of five consecutive threes.
“I can’t really recall our team doing that before,” Kelson said of three players going seven under in two holes. “That was pretty good.”
Memphis’ Grant Milner was threatening to run away in the individual competition. Back-to-back rounds of 67 left him at 134, 10 under par, and gave him a five-stroke lead over Evan Beck of Wake Forest, who shot 69. It was the second-lowest 36-hole total in the Memphis program’s history.
First-round co-leader Rick Lamb of Tennessee shot 73 and was at 140, four under. Also at 140 were defending champion Jace Long of Missouri and Mac McLaughlin of Virginia.
Saturday was moving day, and host school East Tennessee State went in the wrong direction. The Bucs posted a 9-over-par 297 total to fall three places into ninth.
“We didn’t play as well today as I thought we would,” ETSU coach Fred Warren said. “It’s disappointing. But hopefully the guys will work on some things and come out tomorrow and make up some ground.”
The Bucs did have a bright spot. Sophomore Scott Gibson made four birdies in a row to make up for a rough start that saw him shoot 40 on the front nine. He wound up with a 73 to tie for low-man honors among his teammates.
“It was good, especially after starting so poorly,” Gibson said. “I was pleased with the way I came back. I played really well. I got it going.”
Also for the Bucs, Gudmundur Kristjansson shot 73, while Adrian Meronk shot 75, Rhys Pugh posted a 76 and Chris Hickman had a 79.
Six teams were within eight strokes of the Vols. In addition to Virginia at 570, Missouri and Memphis were at 571, followed by Virginia Tech (572), Coastal Carolina (573) and Wake Forest (575).
Tennessee will be trying to win this tournament for the fourth time today.
“It would mean a lot,” Kelson said. “It would be nice to play well. To be able to do something like that would indicate that things are moving in the right direction.”