WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. — For much of Thursday’s third round at the 101st West Virginia Amateur it looked like nothing could rain on Pat Carter’s birdie parade.
But rain it did late in the proceedings, derailing Carter’s round a bit and opening the door on Friday for the rest of the field and a whole bunch of drama.
Carter settled for a round of 2-under 68 on the Meadows Course at The Greenbrier resort and will enter Friday’s final round as the tournament’s co-leader at 3-under with Ravenswood’s Alex Easthom, who willed his way to a round of even par on Thursday.
A lightning strike followed by heavy rain interrupted Thursday’s round at 1:09 p.m. with Carter on the 15th green sitting at 5-under for the day and 6-under for the tournament, three shots clear of the field at the time.
But when play resumed at 2 p.m., Carter promptly three-putted for double bogey and sandwiched bogeys at 16 and 18 around a chip-in birdie at 17.
“It’s a shame that they sent us back out without having time to loosen up,” Carter said. “You sit for an hour and I don’t know of any tournaments that wouldn’t allow you to hit a few balls to loosen up. But everybody had to do it and I don’t have any excuses.”
The West Virginia Golf Association’s decision to send players directly back out onto the course was due to more incoming weather throughout the late afternoon and evening.
Despite the turn of events at the end, Carter, looking for his 14th Amateur title to move within one of William C. Campbell, put himself in position with eight birdies on Thursday. The state’s most storied golf course — the Old White TPC — will be the backdrop on Friday for what promises to be a frenzied run to the finish.
“Sixty-eight, that was my goal today,” Carter said. “I hit that. I had it in good position, but eight birdies? My gosh, I made a bunch of putts today. I’m exactly where I wanted to be, I wanted to be in the last group.
“Thrilled at 52 (years old) to be in contention for another Am. It will be interesting tomorrow, for sure.”
Carter and Easthom will be joined by Jackson Hill, who shot 3-under 67 on Thursday with the help of six birdies to get to 2-under for the tournament.
While Carter and Easthom were in the penultimate group on Thursday and Hill even further ahead, the day’s final group — as well as some other favorites — certainly had their struggles.
Noah Mullens entered the day as the tournament’s leader at 5-under but limped to a 6-over 76, as did Philip Reale, who came into Thursday at 4-under. The third of the trio, Poca’s Mitch Hoffman, entered at 4-under and used clutch par putts to overcome some errant ball striking to finish with a 3-over 73. Hoffman will enter Friday’s final round at 1-under and in the penultimate group with Follansbee’s Ryan Bilby (even) and Huntington’s Cam Roam (1-over).
Mason Williams, the tournament’s defending champion, was derailed early on Thursday by a quadruple-bogey nine at the par-5 fourth hole after hitting his second shot into a creek and his fourth over the green and behind a fence and some trees.
Still, there are 15 players within six shots of the lead.
Experience certainly lies with Carter, as Sam O’Dell and Williams at 2-over for the tournament are the next closest players with an Amateur win. Williams again will enter the final day six shots back at 3-over.
But Easthom, Hill, Hoffman, Bilby and the other young players in pursuit have plenty of game and Friday’s final round will likely be all about overcoming nerves.
“I was so nervous on that first tee,” Easthom said. “Pat Carter, he is incredible, so to get a chance to play with him, I was really nervous on the first couple of holes.
“I’m ecstatic. I can’t wait. I think I’ll definitely be nervous, but I think anybody would be nervous and sometimes nerves can help you perform really well. I think I’ll sleep all right and I think I’ll play OK.”
“I can almost bet I’ll be pretty nervous, but I’m excited to see how I handle that,” Hill added. “Even if the outcome isn’t what I want it to be tomorrow, it’s something to feed on for the next year and the year after that.”
Scott Depot’s Chris Williams, a former standout at Winfield and West Virginia, had the low round of the day with a 4-under 66 and moved up to 2-over for the tournament, in a tie for eighth.