OOLTEWAH, Tenn. — Russell Henley has a gameplan for today to move into contention at the NCAA Golf Championships.
The Georgia junior and former Stratford standout will play extra aggressive. He’ll have to if he hopes have any chance to win heading into Thursday’s final round of stroke play.
Henley heads into the final round nine shots back of the leaders are shooting a 1-over-par 73 on Wednesday at The Honors Course just outside of Chattanooga. Henley is even-par for the tournament, clumped in with a group of nine players in a tie for 35th place. San Diego’s Alex Ching, who is ranked 173rd in the country in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings, leads the tournament after posting a course-record 66 on Wednesday. Ching broke Tiger Woods’ course record.
“(Nine) shots is a lot,” Henley said. “You have to do a lot of damage to make up that ground.”
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Henley said he thought he could hit it and putt it well enough to put him into contention.
Despite the ground he must make up to win, Henley wouldn’t look for his individual standings even if the scoreboards on the course showed the individual leaders.
“I really don’t have control of what other people are doing,” Henley said.
Henley’s deficit wasn’t expansive until he stepped to the No. 8 tee box. Sitting at 2 under for the tournament, Henley hit a bad tee shot right of the par-3 green, which was his 17th hole of the day after he started his round on the back nine. During the next 30 or so minutes, Henley dropped three shots, moving from four shots off the lead to seven. Ching made that deficit nine shots by the evening.
Henley hit his chip on No. 8 long, and it rolled way past the hole. He missed the long par putt coming back, then he missed about a six-foot bogey putt coming back the other way. A tap-in gave him his first double-bogey of the week.
“I just hit it too hard,” he said.
A bad hole turned into bad luck on the next hole when a perfect drive on the par-4 9th hole turned unlucky when Henley’s ball found some mud. His approach shot went way left and found a bunker tucked between a pond and the lower left portion of the green. Henley hit his sand shot close to the hole, but it ran a few feet past, and he missed the par putt coming back.
Henley said he thought he hit a perfect swing with his pitching wedge, but he knew something was wrong when the ball pulled left. He said it was his first mudball.
The tough finish erased the momentum Henley gathered with birdies on Nos. 6 and 7. He moved to 3 under for the tournament with his birdie on the par-4 7th hole, and he was just four shots back of the leaders at the time.
Henley said he didn’t really get comfortable until his eighth or ninth hole of the day. He thought he started to build some momentum with a birdie on No. 17 and another birdie on No. 2.
The birdie on No. 2 looked like it could be better when he hit his approach shot on the par-5 hole over a tree right at the pin to the small part of an elevated green. The ball, however, didn’t stop and rolled into a tiny bunker on the backside of the hole. Henley’s bunker shot ran past the hole, and he made a tricky uphill putt for birdie.
“I hit (the approach) pretty low,” he said. “It’s hard to expect it to stop. It was a pretty tight bunker.”
He gave back a bogey on No. 5.