It will be an all-Big Ten last threesome when the final round of the 104th Pennsylvania Amateur, presented by LECOM, tees off Wednesday at White Manor Country Club.
Penn State junior JD Hughes, playing out of Carlisle Country Club, and Rutgers senior Matt Holuta, playing out of Indiana Country Club, finished Tuesday’s second round tied at the top of the leaderboard at 6-under 136.
They’ll be joined in the final pairing by Hughes’ Penn State teammate and defending Pennsylvania Amateur champion Cole Miller of Blue Ridge Country Club. Miller had the best round of the day, a 5-under-par 66, to surge into third place, a shot behind Hughes and Holuta at 5-under 137.
Christopher Ault of Yardley Country Club, one of the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s most consistent mid-amateur players, is alone in fourth place at 3-under 139 and Georgetown senior Cole Berman, the 2015 BMW Philadelphia Amateur champion out of Philadelphia Cricket Club, and recently crowned Pennsylvania Boys’ Junior champion Palmer Jackson of Hannastown Golf Club, are tied for fifth at 2-under 140.
Holuta, paired with Berman and four-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Nathan Smith, started on the 10th and quickly got it going with birdies at 10 and 12. But his drive found the water on the 13th and resulted in a double bogey.
But Holuta, winner of the R. Jay Sigel Match Play Championship last summer, had the perfect response, knocking a 6-iron to a foot away on the par-3 14th to get back on track. After a birdie at the 17th and a bogey at the first, Holuta finished strong with birdies at four, six and seven for a 4-under 67, which, combined with an opening-round 69, left him at 6-under.
Hughes got hot on the front nine with birdies at six, seven and nine. He stumbled briefly with a bogey at the 13th, but steadied himself with a birdie at the 15th. A localized downpour added another challenge for Hughes down the stretch, but he parred the last three holes for a second consecutive 68 that enabled him to join Holuta at 6-under.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Hughes told the Pennsylvania Golf Association website as he looked ahead to Wednesday’s final round. “It should be a lot of fun. I’ve played with Matt before and know him a little bit and I always enjoy playing with Cole. Cole mentally doesn’t let anything faze him. He just gets up there and rips it.”
Miller surged past another Penn State teammate, J.D. Dornes, in the final round to capture the state Amateur crown a year ago at Moselem Springs Golf Club.
It seemed to springboard the former Northwestern Lehigh standout to a Penn State campaign that culminated in a stunning individual victory at the NCAA Washington Regional at Aldarra Golf Club in Sammamish, Wash.
It was a special spring for the entire Penn State team as Miller and Hughes helped the Nittany Lions finish fifth in the Washington Regional to qualify as a team for the NCAA Championship at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
In recent weeks, Miller took a trip across the pond and played in the British Amateur at Royal St. George’s Golf Club, was the medalist in a U.S. Amateur qualifier at the Colonial Golf & Tennis Club by eight shots and beat a field of Philadelphia Section PGA pros last week in the GALV Lehigh Valley Open at Northampton Country Club.
Miller really got it going in the middle of his round Tuesday with birdies at six, seven and nine. On the short par-4 10th, he lashed a driver to a bunker 30 yards short of the green. Then he proceeded to hole the bunker shot for an eagle.
He cooled off a little with bogeys at 12 and 13 before going after the pin at the par-3 14th with a punched 5-iron to three feet. He converted that birdie opportunity to get it to 5-under.
Berman, playing in the group with Holuta and Smith, who won the R. Jay Sigel Match Play title for a fifth time last month, played a steady round that featured four birdies against just one bogey for a 3-under 68.
Arnie Cutrell, another Hannastown representative, grabbed the opening-round lead with a 4-under 67, but fell back into a tie for seventh at 1-under 141 with a 74 Tuesday. He was joined at that figure by Liam McAnally of Applecross Country Club who added a 1-over 72 to his opening-round 69, and Darin Kowalski of South Hills Country Club, who fired a 3-under 68 after opening with a 73.
Princeton senior Michael Davis of Aronimink Golf Club was one of three players tied for 10th at even-par 142 after a second consecutive 71. Drexel senior Aaron Fricke, a former Garden Spot standout who plays out of Lancaster Country Club, added a 1-over 72 to his opening-round 70 to join Davis at even-par.
The third member of the group tied for 10th was Latrobe Elks Golf Club’s Brady Pevarnik, who finished third in the PIAA Class AAA Championship as a sophomore at Latrobe last fall. Pevarnik, like Davis, has matched par in each of his first two rounds with a pair of 71s.
The field was cut to the low 40 and ties and it took a 6-over 148 total to survive to Wednesday’s final round.
Smith, three times a member of the U.S. Walker Cup team, including a memorable U.S. victory at Merion Golf Club’s East Course in 2009, is one of seven players tied for 16th at 2-over 144 after posting a 1-under 70 Tuesday. Smith plays out of Wildwood Golf Club.