BY BRAD ZIEMER
KELOWNA — George Cunningham finished his round with two birdies, but that was nothing compared to his start in Saturday’s third round of the GolfBC Championship.
Cunningham birdied the first hole, birdied the second hole and aced the third hole. You won’t be shocked to learn he is the new leader at the $200,000 Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada event at Gallagher’s Canyon Golf & Country Club.
“Me and my dad (Tracy), who was caddying for me, were joking like that wasn’t the start we were looking for today,” Cunningham said with a big smile after his round. “Starting out the day through three holes I had a total of about a foot-and-a-half of putts. I hit it to a foot on the first hole, to a couple of inches on the the second hole and in the hole on the third. So I was feeling confident.”
He went on to shoot a career-best nine-under 62 that has him at 15-under par and three shots ahead of the rest of the field heading into Sunday’s final round.
The 22-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., has only been a pro for about a month. He recently finished his collegiate career at the University of Arizona and made his pro debut at the Freedom 55 Financial Open in Vancouver, where he missed the cut. He also missed the cut last week in Victoria. So what happened?
“I played well the first two events, I just scored really bad,” Cunningham said. “And I wasn’t playing my golf like I knew I could, so I went into this tournament with no expectations and played the way I knew I could play. I wasn’t expecting 62 today, but I just played my golf and it turned out pretty well today.”
Second-round leader Jared du Toit of Kimberley is one of six players tied for second at 12-under par. Du Toit’s even-par round of 72 was a real roller-coaster ride. After making the turn at one-under par, du Toit ran into trouble on the back nine. He bogeyed No. 10 and triple-bogeyed the 11th hole after pulling his 8-iron approach shot into a shrub. From there he had to take a drop into a bunker.
But du Toit rallied with three birdies on his final four holes.
“The front nine I actually played really well and just didn’t get much out of it,” du Toit said. “I gave myself a ton of looks and didn’t make much. Then on 10 and 11 I had a rough patch with a couple of bad swings that really cost me. But I stayed patient on some of those tougher (finishing) holes and made a couple birdies at the end which felt really nice.
Du Toit shares second with Zach Wright of Baton Rouge, La., Russell Surber of San Diego, Andrew Dorn of West Chester, Oh., P.J. Samiere of Kailua, Hi., and Cory Pereira of Cameron Park, Calif.
Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont. sits tied for ninth at 10-under par after shooting a two-under 69 Saturday. Pendrith rebounded from a tough start to his day. He double-bogeyed the first hole and was three-over through four holes.
“It could have gone the other way pretty easily,” Pendrith said. “I hung in there and made some birdies coming in. And I birdied three in a row to turn at even, which was kind of my goal after being three-over through four. It was a good day.”
Sunday will be a big day for Pendrith, who has no status on tour and is relying on sponsor’s exemptions to get into events.
“I am just going to go out there and try and win,” he said. “I am five back and I will go out there and try and make as many birdies as possible and see what happens.”
That is du Toit’s game plan as well.
“There are so many good golfers here,” he said. “You just want to make as many birdies as you can and sign the scorecard at the end. There is somebody at 15-under so I would assume 18 is probably safe, but you never know.”
The leaders played through a couple of heavy downpours. Rain was not in the forecast and du Toit and Pendrith did not pack their umbrellas.
“I was kind of unprepared, but it was fine,” Pendrith said. “It only rained on us for three holes. It wasn’t too bad. It affected a couple of shots, I’d say. A couple of wedge shots I hit skipped way past the hole. But we managed all right.”
West Vancouver’s Dave Rose had another solid day. He fired a three-under 68 and heads into Sunday’s final round tied for 12th place at nine-under par.
CHIP SHOTS: Play will begin at 7:55 a.m. Sunday with the final group going off at 12:50 p.m. . .To celebrate Father’s Day, every dad attending Sunday’s final round can enter for a chance to win a golf getaway to Victoria for four. The package includes return airfare for four from Kelowna, two rooms for a one-night stay at the Prestige Oceanfront Resort in Sooke, airport parking at Kelowna Airport and a round of golf for four, with power cart, at Olympic View Golf Club. The draw will be made at about 5 p.m during the tournament’s closing ceremonies.