ST. FRANCISVILLE — During the first and second rounds of the Adams Pro Tour’s Merrill Lynch Open, Jay Russell beat up The Bluffs golf course, registering a 9-under-par en route to a tie for the lead at the tournament’s midway point.
On Friday, thanks to a stiff wind, The Bluffs fought back against Russell and the other 44 golfers who made the 36-hole cut, with only nine breaking par.
Russell shot a 2-under 70, good for a one-shot lead on Zach Cabra, his playing partner Friday. Russell enters the final round at 11-under 205; Cabra, who shot 71, was at 10-under 206.
“It was very windy out there, but we both played well and we fed off each other,” Russell said. “It was a lot of fun, but it was a tough day with the wind. I couldn’t take many chances.”
Russell had three birdies against one bogey, while Cabra had three birdies and two bogeys.
“I had to play more conservative today because it was really windy out there, making for a couple of tough tee shots,” Cabra said. “I just tried to keep the ball in play, and I was able to make a couple of putts.”
Mark Walker, who lost in a playoff for last year’s title, almost was forced to quit Friday because of a rib injury. But he persevered and finished at 1-under 71 for sole possession of third place at 8-under.
“I played well despite the rib, and this golf course is awesome,” Walker said. “It’s my favorite course out on this tour.”
Patrick Sullivan, Chris Ward and Devin Carrey were two strokes behind Walker at 6-under, with four more golfers tied at 5-under — including second round co-leader Joshua Creel, who struggled to a 4-over 76.
Russell said he doesn’t plan to play overly cautious in Saturday’s final round — unless it’s windy again.
“I plan to try and build on the lead and make birdies and hopefully play well,” he said. “Today I had to play conservatively because the golf course was more challenging and it was the only way to play it.”
The $125,000 tournament will conclude after Saturday’s final round, with tee times beginning at 8 a.m.