FORT WAYNE – As the sun reluctantly gave way late Sunday afternoon and the day’s final participants nursed their beverages and told stories of the birdies that could have been but never were, there was quite a crowd that gathered around the leader board of the Men’s City Golf Championship at Pine Valley Country Club.
But if you thought that was congested, check out the board itself.
Heading into today’s final round of the 54-hole event, four-time champion Scott Pieri and first-day leader Mitch Rutledge head a gaggle of 10 within seven shots of the lead.
Four-time winner Sam Till Jr. put a 1-under 70 on top of the 68 he had Saturday and, with a 4-under 138, joins Rutledge and Pieri in the final 2:40 p.m. pairing. Till trails by one stroke. Johnny Strawser’s 3-under 68 was the best round of the windy day, and he’s two shots behind the co-leaders.
Rutledge, the 19-year-old who blistered the 6,649-yard, par-71 course Saturday with an 8-under 63, not only came back to earth Sunday with a three-over 74 but also managed just two birdies to come back to the considerably crowded field.
Pieri, the two-time defending champ who was once 2 over for the day, birdied three of the final five holes, including the final one, to finish with a 1-under 70 which enabled him to erase the four-shot deficit he had against Rutledge.
I just wanted to close the gap on Mitch, Pieri said. He was four shots in front of me. I needed to close the gap on him a little bit. I couldn’t be four shots behind going into (today). I needed to be closer than that. When I stepped up on the (No.) 5 tee and I was two under for the golf tournament and two over for the day, I knew I had to get going a little bit.
That, he said, is when the putting stroke that has been there most of the summer – the one that mysteriously went off on a three-week cruise – seemed to have returned to port.
Somewhere we got on the front nine, Pieri said. I hit two great putts that didn’t go in that kind of got me going a little bit. I made a nice putt on 5, a nice putt on 6 and then I had a 10-footer on 9. Maybe that’ll get me going (today).
Rutledge, the Michigan State recruit who had nine birdies Saturday, had three bogeys and a double-bogey 5 when his tee shot on the 189-yard No. 3 hole hit the bank of a water hazard and fell in.
I was going at the middle of the green the whole way, Rutledge said. I was in between clubs, so I was worried about hitting it too high, so I came off it a little bit and left it out to the right.
Despite letting a four-shot lead go away and being flanked by a pair of four-time champions in the final group, Rutledge is undeterred.
I feel good about my game, he said. I’m going to head home after this, chill out, and watch some TV.