Golf

Kentucky’s PGA tournament’s set up for a photo finish. See who’s in contention.

Photo slideshow: 4-way tie for the lead at PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship

A photo slideshow from the third day of the PGA Tour Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.
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A photo slideshow from the third day of the PGA Tour Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville.

Central Kentucky’s first PGA Tournament in nearly 60 years is set up for barn-burner finish.

Troy Merritt took the lead in the Barbasol Championship on Thursday by tying the Champions Course at Keene Trace Golf Club record with a 10-under par 62. It took two rounds, but the field has finally caught up to him.

A day after severe thunderstorms halted the tournament in the middle of the second day, forcing several contenders to play two whole rounds on Saturday, the action on the course was marked by a deluge of low scores.

Robert Streb made the biggest move of the day. The 31-year-old Oklahoma native, whose one PGA Tour win came in the 2014 McGladrey Classic, shot a 9-under 63 to earn a share of the lead. He birdied five holes on the back nine, including the last two.

Hunter Mahan and Tom Lovelady also caught up with Merritt, leaving four players tied for first place heading into the final round. All told, the top nine contenders are all within two strokes of each other.

“Probably a fan’s paradise,” replied Streb when asked about how Sunday is setting up. “Everybody is going to have a chance at it. ... Sure, I’d love to have a six-shot lead or something, but it’s great to have a chance.”

Sam Ryder also fired a 63 in the third round, leaving him one shot back at 17-under par. The 28-year-old, who finished tied for second in last week’s PGA John Deere Classic, was one of the golfers who had to fit two rounds in Saturday because of the storms.

“I’m definitely in need of some rest going into tomorrow, but when you start making a bunch of birdies and you start getting 7, 8, 9 under, a little bit of adrenaline will carry you through,” he said.

Ex-Cat teammates make the cut

The careers of former University of Kentucky stars Cooper Musselman and Chip McDaniel have been intertwined for the last four years as the duo helped lead the Wildcats to unprecedented levels of success on the golf course. Most recently the senior co-captains navigated UK to a 21st place finish at the NCAA Championships in May, carding the lowest individual scores on the team.

Unlike many college teammates, their shared story didn’t end at graduation. Musselman and McDaniel received sponsor exemptions allowing them to compete in the PGA Barbasol Championship, and the ex-Cats are making the most of the opportunity.

Like many others in the field, Musselman and McDaniel had their scheduled second round washed out on Friday when the severe thunderstorms that tore through Central Kentucky took their toll on the Champions Course at Keene Trace Golf Club. When the two finally hit the course Saturday morning, they played more like veterans than rookies. Musselman and McDaniel both made the cut, meaning their first taste of PGA competition will result in their first professional payday.

Every non-amateur who made the cut in the Barbasol Championship will get a share of the $3.5 million purse. Just where the former Cats finish and how much they’ll earn remains to be determined. But for now, just knowing he’ll be on the course for the rest of the tournament is reward enough for Musselman.

“Now I can play a little more free and hopefully birdies will fly,” he said. “Hopefully, I can just slowly climb up the leaderboard.”

Musselman was right on the cusp of the projected cut line after Thursday’s first round, where he closed with back-to-back birdies and finished with a 2-under 70. He was steady again on Saturday, finishing with five birdies including three in a row on the front nine to move to 5 under, one shot above the cut.

Musselman said that span was crucial to maintaining his pace after an early bogey.

“It was huge for confidence,” Musselman said. “I didn’t really hit it well the first three holes ... then I hit a good shot and made a good putt. ... That really just got me in a good zone for the rest of the day.”

By contrast, it took a whale of a round for McDaniel to make the cut. He ended the first round by bogeying four of the last six holes and falling to 2-over par. His chances of surviving the cull looked bleak. That was until McDaniel shaved off two strokes with an eagle on his fifth hole Saturday.

“I hit a 6-iron to within 12 or 13 feet then made it. That just really got me going,” McDaniel said. “I just felt really comfortable the rest of the day.”

McDaniel began his day on hole No. 10 around the same time Musselman began his on hole No. 1. Musselman first realized his ex-teammate was racing up the leaderboard as both of them were nearing the end of their round.

“I was coming up (No.) 16 and he was on (No.) 8 and I saw his name pop up on the board and he was 5 under. Then I heard the gallery after he made a putt and I thought ‘Wow, he must be playing really well,’” Musselman said. “I’m just really glad he got in. It’s awesome.”

Four more birdies got McDaniel on the right side of the cut line. He just needed to par his final hole in order to join Musselman in the third round. His brother and caddie, Todd McDaniel, wanted to make sure the mood was light.

“We’ve got one hole to go and we need a par and he’s just making jokes,” Chip said of his brother, with whom he played for one season at UK while he was a freshman and Todd was a senior. “He just keeps me loose and keeps me in the moment.”

McDaniel got up and down for the par, finishing off a brilliant run and securing his shot to spend two more rounds measuring himself against PGA pros.

“Anything can happen on the weekend,” McDaniel said. “You shoot two good numbers and you’re all of a sudden in the top 10.”

Musselman shot a 3-under 69 in the third round on Saturday, leaving him in a tie for 49th place. McDaniel shot a 71 and was tied for 65th heading into the final round.

Today

Barbasol Championship

TV: 4-7 p.m. (Golf Channel)

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