John Ellis and Nathan Lashley head into this morning’s final round of the 53rd Mid-Pacific Open tied for first and at least four shots up on everybody else.
What they have learned from years on mainland mini-tours is that four shots can shrink quickly. A week ago, Rory McIlroy’s four-stroke lead was gone before he made the turn at the Masters. Mid-Pacific Country Club is not Augusta National, but it can be fraught with danger, even in this week’s Kona weather.
"You’ve got to drive the ball in the fairway and hit good shots into the greens," said Lashley, who was introduced to MPCC last year by Leilehua graduate and Arizona buddy Nick Mason. "It’s tough to get the ball close to the hole, especially when the wind is blowing. The greens are extremely fast and have a lot of slope, so it’s tough to make putts. It’s a pretty tough course in retrospect."
Lashley (68), Ellis (69) and Brady Stockton (69) had the only scores in the 60s in yesterday’s third round. That makes them very good, very lucky or both, a question to be answered today.
Lashley went into yesterday a shot behind Ellis, who won the Hawaii Pearl Open in February. Lashley birdied their first hole (No. 10) to tie and led most of the day. His fifth, and longest, birdie putt came on their 16th hole (No. 7) and put him at 10 under par for the tournament.
The 28-year-old University of Arizona graduate won on the Gateway Tour last month. Last year, he went into the final round at Mid-Pac two shots behind leader Dean Wilson. Lashley closed with a 78 and was third behind Samuel Cyr and Wilson.
"Played pretty well last year," Lashley recalled. "It was tough, really windy. You had to be really on your game, otherwise you could go the wrong way fast."
Ellis caught Lashley on the final hole yesterday, draining a 15-footer for birdie that also has him at 10-under 206. It was his third birdie on the front nine for the day. His lone back-nine highlight was a 15-foot eagle putt on the 16th that erased bogeys the previous two holes.
"That really kick-started it … ," said Ellis, who decided to come here when he didn’t get into this week’s Nationwide stop. "I was 5 under after that and could have been even more, so it was really good, actually."
Ellis, from San Jose, had three wins and won the Order of Merit on the Canadian Tour in 2008. He was second last week on the Golden State Tour and is now happy to be back in his Hawaii comfort zone.
"The whole Hawaiian feel is just more relaxing," said Ellis, who has top-six finishes in all four starts at Pearl. "It’s just nice. Nobody is in a dang hurry like at home. Even at the golf tournaments. So it’s nice."
Stockton, another mini-tour player from Northern California, stormed into the lead Thursday with an opening-round 66. A 75 on Friday set him back and he was 2 over for his round when he made the turn yesterday. Three birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fifth put him within sight of the leaders.
Stockton plays with the leaders in today’s final group, which tees off just before 9 a.m.
The local pros are a bit farther back. Kevin Hayashi, inducted into the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame this year, shot 71 and is tied for fourth with Waialae Country Club head pro Kevin Carll (70) at 4-under 212. The only other players under par are David Ishii (71–213) and Nick Mason (74–214).
» Ishii won the senior pro championship, which is contested over the first 36 holes. Ishii, a member of the Hawaii Golf Hall of Fame, is a three-time Mid-Pacific Open champion. He has shot 71 all three days.
Ishii won $1,000 and is still in contention for the $15,000 first prize today. The total purse is $63,000.
» Doug Banks, from Oregon, won the senior amateur title with 76-73.
» Tyler Simpson, who shot a 69 on Friday, is the low amateur heading into the final round at 4-over 220. Donny Hopoi, Seungjae Maeng, Kalena Preus and Brandan Kop are next at 222.
» The 36-hole cut came at 153 for the pros and 156 for amateurs.