Friends top older boys’ leaderboard at Smart

Today will be an interesting day for defending Bubba Smart Junior Stroke Play champion Cameron McRae.

“I’m playing with the leader, and it should be a lot of fun, if the putts fall for me,” McRae said.

Making today all the more interesting is that the leader happens to be his friend, whom he’s paired with.

McRae, of Hot Springs, goes into today’s second and final round at Pine Bluff Country Club with a three-over 74, three strokes behind Conway’s Chase Netherton for the lead in the boys 16- to 18-year-old division.

“I missed a lot of putts today, so I’m happy with three-over,” said McRae, the 2012 5A state runner-up for Hot Springs Lakeside. “(The green) was a really hard spot.”

Netherton enjoyed maybe his finest round of the summer so far. He had been in a slump until last week, when he shot a 76 in Jonesboro, and improved on that with a 34 on the back nine holes and 37 on the front nine to finish the day at even par.

“I’m not necessarily surprised with it,” said Netherton, who will play next season at Ouachita Baptist. “I haven’t played as well up to this point.”

Netherton finished third in the state high school overall tournament and helped Conway win the 7A team title. Many of his rounds during the summer have been in the 80s, and he said his round in Jonesboro helped him get on a roll.

“I got some birdies to go,” he said. “Really close wedge shots. I think it was just good I got a few shots where I hit a lot of greens. Didn’t get some putts to fall, but I hit the greens.”

Payton Wilhoit is third with a 75, followed by Carson Roberts and Jeffrey Manning, both with a 76. Micah Cottrell is the low-scoring local in the division with a 77.

Dean Castleberry leads the boys 14-15 division with a 73, one stroke ahead of Grayson Jones. Hunter Hickingbotham leads the three-player boys 12-13 division by 10 strokes with an 83.

In the girls division, Katelyn Dunstan leads with a 76, one stroke ahead of Kirsten Garner and two ahead of Hannah Bakalekos.

The tournament is named after Richard “Bubba” Smart, a multiple Arkansas State Golf Association junior and amateur champion in the 1940s from Pine Bluff who is a 2002 inductee into the Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame.

Netherton is going for his first win on the ASGA junior tour this season, and he knows his plan for protecting the lead.

“With a course like Pine Bluff, I’ll have to find a way to get my driver in play,” he said. “The most important thing to hit the fairways.”

Netherton and McRae will tee off at No. 10A along with Wilhoit. All players will begin the round at 8:30 a.m.

That’s when the friendly competition between Netherton and McRae will continue.

“We’ll be firing back and forth to each other,” McRae said.

Bubba Smart Junior Stroke Play Leaderboard (after 1 round)

Par 71

Boys 16-18 (top 10)

1. Chase Netherton, 71

2. Cameron McRae, 74

3. Payton Wilhoit, 75

Tie-4. Carson Roberts, 76

Tie-4. Jeffrey Manning, 76

6. Micah Cottrell, 77

Tie-7. Griffin Smith, 78

Tie-7. Lincoln Hill, 78

9. Mitchell Ford, 79

10. Austin Ellis, 80

Girls 10-18 (all entrants)

1. Katelyn Dunstan, 76

2. Kirsten Garner, 77

3. Hannah Bakalekos, 78

4. Stephanie Leaker, 80

5. Allie Weiner, 82

6. Lauren Johnson, 85

7. Taylor Reed, 89

8. Ann Roe, 90

9. Alexis McDaniel, 91

10. Juli Brown, 100

Boys 14-15 (top 10)

1. Dean Castleberry, 73

2. Grayson Jones, 74

Tie-3. Caleb Kubacek, 77

Tie-3. Reese Nichols, 77

5. Witt Parker, 78

6. August Reynolds, 80

7. Andrew Mayes, 82

8. Ryan Spurlock, 84

9. Cole Nichols, 85

10. Cain Gunnett, 88

Boys 12-13 (all entrants)

1. Hunter Hickingbotham, 83

2. Josh McNulty, 93

3. Mastin Frazer, 106