If Cabot’s Kaylee Benton is going to claim her third consecutive Bubba Smart Invitational title at Pine Bluff Country Club, she’s going to have to come from behind to do it.
Benton, 15, carded a 3-over 75 in Thursday’s opening round of the event, tied with Forrest City’s Elizabeth Moon and three strokes behind the first-day leader, Kirsten Garner of Hot Springs.
Benton said there were places where could improve on Thursday’s score in today’s final round.
“I like the course but I hate the greens,” Benton said. “I had so many putts today. It was bad. The greens are so grainy and they break out of this world. I missed three 3-foot birdie putts.”
Benton turned in a scorecard that was indicative of her putting woes with only one birdie. She had three bogies and one double bogey. She said she would have to roll the ball better today to keep pace with Moon and gain ground on Garner.
“She has a good short game,” Benton said of Moon. “I need to hit fairways and greens again and make more putts.”
She won’t have another opportunity to win the event in the future as her father has accepted a job and is moving the family to Phoenix, Ariz.
“It’s warm out there, but I don’t think it will be as hot as it was today,” Benton said. “I am excited. We used to live out there and lived on a really nice course, so I am excited.”
Little Rock’s Cameron McRae and Texarkana’s Grayson Jones, both 15, share the overall lead in the tournament, signing for a 1-over 72. The duo will be paired together for today’s final round.
McRae had five birdies and a bogey. He said the course was receptive to low scores.
“The course was dry and the ball was bouncing in some different places,” McRae said. “But it was a good course today. The greens were soft and spun a lot.
McRae opened with a 37 on front nine and closed with a 35 on the back while Jones scorched the front with a 34 and faltered down the stretch with a 38 on the back after seeing the course for the first time in a practice round on Wednesday.
“I had five birdies and a lot of bogeys,” Jones said. “I left a lot of shots out there. In this heat, you have to stay hydrated and make sure you don’t do anything stupid. You have to remember that it’s 18 holes and to stay calm.”
McRae and Jones have a six-stroke advantage in the 14-15 year old division over Drew Castleberry’s 78 and a two-shot advantage over the rest of the field for the overall title. Carson Roberts and Chase Netherton, both of Conway lead the 16-17 year old division with 74’s in a crowded leaderboard. The duo is a shot clear of Tanner Bezet’s 75 and two strokes better than Adam Mote and Lincoln Hill.
Jones said getting back on the course for today’s final round would be easier than waiting for the sun to rise.
“It’s hard to sleep on a lead,” he said. “You are thinking that if I go out and play my game tomorrow, I am going to win. You feel the pressure. I just need to come out here and go through the same routine and not do anything stupid.”
Roberts started the day off with bogies on two of the first three holes before closing with a pair of birdies to finish with a 38 on the front, identical to Netherton. The two then shared 36’s on the back nine to earn the shared position atop the leaderboard.
Roberts said the slow start didn’t affect the rest of his round.
“I was fine,” the 16-year said. “I knew I could get them back because I had some scoreable holes coming up. So I was fine.”
Roberts said expects to go lower today after improving two strokes from the last time he played PBCC.
“I hit my approach shots better,” he said. “But I still left a lot of strokes out there. It could have been a lot better. It should have been a lot better.”
Conway’s Whit Parker leads the 12-13 year old division after firing 73, 13 strokes better than Hermitage’s Hayden Lassiter while Maumelle’s Hagen Sanchez carded a 94 to lead the 10-11 year old division.