Miles Russell said there is a way he handles hot streaks on the golf course.
“Hold on as long as you can,” he said Saturday after jumping out to a four-shot lead in 17. Junior Players Championship, on the Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass. “Keep hitting good shots.”
The 14-year-old Jacksonville Beach resident, who is ranked second in the American Junior Golf Association’s Polo rankings, ride that horse in the second round until it bows.
Russell began the day two shots behind 18-hole leader Nicholas Gross and with birdies on his first four holes took the lead for good. Russell flirted with the course record 63 as he birdied eight of his first 12 holes and managed the day’s only bogeys on Nos. 5 and 8 to shoot 66 and finish at 8-under-par 136 entering Sunday’s final round.
Tour winner’s son in battle
Jackson Byrd of St. Simons Island, Ga., son of the five-time PGA Tour winner Jonathan Byrd, birdied the 18th hole and shot 69 to join Billy Davis (68) of Spring Valley, Calif., in a tie for second at 4-under 140.
Philip Dunham from Ponte Vedra Beach (70) had a rollercoaster ride on the Stadium Course with seven birdies and five bogeys, but two of his birdies were on the final two holes as he secured a solo fourth place at 3-under.
Blades Brown (73) of Nashville, Tenn., and William Hartman (70) of Marvin, NC, are tied for fifth at 2-under.
Tyler Mawhinney (74) of Fleming Island was even par with two holes to play but doubled the par-3 17th hole thanks to a tee shot into the water around the Island Green. He is in seventh place at 1-under.
Birdie on 18 highlighted Russell’s day
Russell, who recently won the Junior PGA and is seeking his third AJGA victory of the season, got his round off to a relatively modest start with a two-putt birdie on the par-5 11th hole. He dropped an eight-footer for birdie at No. 13, drained a 25-footer at No. 15, made another easy two-putt birdie on the par-5 No. 16.
Russell then got a bonus birdie: blocked out when he hit his tee shot on No. 18 too close to the trees to the right, the left-hander hit a low 5-iron that ran up the fairway and rolled onto the green, coming to rest 5 feet from a hole in front left.
He made the putt for a 5-under 31 on the back.
Junior players, first round: First Coast residents overcome early misfortunes to come into conflict
“Getting a birdie on No. 18 is good no matter how you do it,” Russell said.
After a brief interlude with a par on No. 1, Russell continued to attack with birdies on his next three holes, on putts of 10, 12 and 5 feet.
His run ended with a bogey on No. 5 after he pushed his second shot into the left bunker. The ball sat on a downslope at the back of the trap and he fired his sand shot over the green and then missed a 30-foot par attempt.
Trusts a hot putter
Russell made safe two-putts on the next two holes but bogeyed the par-3 eighth when he missed short and walked, failing to get up and down.
He also missed a chance to birdie the par-5 ninth when his third shot landed on top of the bank near another front-left pin, rolling back down. But Russell finished on a high note, chipping to 3 feet and making par to maintain the low round of the tournament so far.
Russell said his week so far in the Junior Players is a continuation of what has worked this summer: solid putting, with his work on the greens made pressure-free by hitting fairways and attacking greens.
“If you hit the fairways and give yourself a good look, it makes the putt easier,” he said.
Dunham: A day of six pairs
To say Dunham had an interesting day was an understatement. He hit his first hole. He birdied the next two on short putts. He added another birdie on the 16th and turned one shot off the lead.
Dunham then bogeyed Nos. 1, 2 and 3. But just when it looked like disaster was brewing, he chipped in for birdie on No. 4, dropped a 25-footer for birdie on No. .6 and rallied from a bogey on the seventh with birdie putts of 12 and 6 feet for the finish.
“The driver was really good all week and then it just started to loosen up,” Dunham said. “I had to calm down and reset.”
Dunham said he has played more than 20 rounds on the Stadium Course and hopes his familiarity will help in the final round.
“I’m comfortable with a lot of the shots that are a little difficult and know how the greens slope,” he said.
Russell and Dunham will attempt to become the first First Coast residents to win the Junior Players, which began in 2007. The best finish was Bud Cauley of Jacksonville in the preliminary tournament, finishing third, seven shots behind winner Morgan Hoffmann.
Best First Coast finishes in junior players
Bud Cauley, Jacksonville
Tied for third
Julian Suri, St. Augustine
Tied for eighth
AJ Crouch, Jacksonville
Tied for seventh
Camden Smith, Ponte Vedra
Tie for fifth
This article originally appeared on the Florida Times-Union: Miles Russell uses the ferocious birdie streak to take charge of the Junior Players