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EAST PROVIDENCE â€” Recent Texas A&M University graduate Jordan Russell had just finished what he deemed an inconsistent round of two-over-par 71 at Wannamoisett Country Club on Friday afternoon, and was less than thrilled with the outing.
He nevertheless remained two strokes ahead of his closest competitors at the 51st annual Northeast Amateur Invitational Golf Tournament.
For the third consecutive day, Russell sat atop the leaderboard (with a seven-under aggregate score of 200). As he stood just outside the scorer's tent, a scribe told the tall, lanky native of Bryan, Tex. he was the first to do such since the 2000 event.
When asked if he knew the name of that linksman, he just shrugged. After discovering it just happened to be that particular Northeast's eventual champion, Luke Donald, now of PGA and international golf fame, he laughed.
â€śOh, I know who he is,â€ť he grinned.
Russell claimed he wasn't sure if he could accomplish what Donald did a dozen years before, but insisted he'd give it his best â€śshot.
â€śProbably never,â€ť he replied to a query as to the last time he had led a tourney for the first 54 holes of a four-round event. â€śI don't play a lot of '72s,' but I'm pretty comfortable with the situation I'm in. I'm just going to go out and try to execute a little better than I did (Friday).
â€śIf I had sunk a couple more putts, I'd be feeling a little different about (leading),â€ť he added. â€ś(Being in front) really doesn't matter to me. I just want to go out and hit some good putts, earn some birdie tries and sink them all. We'll see.â€ť
Back in 2000, Donald closed with an even-par 69 to post a triumphant eight-under 268, and he led start-to-finish. Should Russell fire a 68 today, he'd equal Donald's winning total.
That, however, is the least of his worries, as he will have to fend off a pair of players at two shots back, two more down four and three others trailing by five at two-under 205.
Florida State's Michael Hebert, who mustered his second straight 65 on Friday, is tied for second at 202 with veteran Mid-Amateur Tim Jackson of Germantown, Tenn., Russell's playing partner in the last group during the third round.
Canada's Justin Shin, who also shot four-under 65 on Friday, is four strokes behind at 204, as is Todd White of Moore, S.C.
And South Bend, Ind.'s Rick Lamb, who had the third round's finest score of 64, is in a sixth-place deadlock at 205 with University of Alabama teammates Bobby Wyatt and Cory Whitsett.
Tournament officials chose to move to a 54-hole cut format just last summer, that in order to allow the invitees one more round. This year, that cut came at seven-over par, or 214 (it included the top 50 three-round scores and ties).
Jackson, competing in his 18th Northeast Amateur, claimed he struggled through his third â€ś18.
â€śI didn't get the feel of the greens just because of the hole locations,â€ť Jackson stated. â€śI think I made three or four birdies â€¦ and there are still more out there, so I can catch up. This late in the day (with all the traffic), if you don't have the pace, (putts) are going to wiggle on you.â€ť
He stated he three-putted the par-three third hole for bogey, then missed another to register bogey at the fourth, but he birdied the fifth and seventh â€“ both par-fours â€“ before bogeying the par-three eighth for a front-nine 35.
Jackson also bogeyed the 11th, but salvaged a bird on the par-five 17th to come home with another 35, good for a one-over 70.
â€śThe back side, I was pretty solid, but I didn't take advantage of my opportunities,â€ť he offered. â€śI guess I'm two shots back, so I still have a chance (Saturday). Hopefully, I'll get off to a little quicker start.â€ť
As for Russell, his lone front-nine bogey came at the 437-yard, par-four sixth, but he also bogeyed No. 10. After manufacturing a bird on the par-four 13th to move to eight-under, he slipped back a shot with a bogey five on No. 16.
â€śOnly twice (Friday) was I not able to advance the ball to the green; we both (he and Jackson) had good looks, but couldn't drop them,â€ť said Russell, who played the par-four holes at five-under during his first-round 63 on Wednesday, but was two-over on the same in Round No. 3.
Lamb's 64 turned out to be the premier 18 of the day. After producing a two-day total of three-over 141, he birdied his first two and parred in for a 32 on the front, then â€“ after taking bogey on the 10th â€“ he rolled out five consecutive â€śthree's.â€ť Those included birdies at the 11th, 13th and 14th; he then birdied the par-five 17th for a back-side 32.
Orlando's own Hebert (pronounced EH-bear), an Auburn University senior-to-be come August, admitted being thrilled with another 65.
He holed birdie putts at Nos. 8 and 9, then did the same on the 11th before bogeying the 12th. Amazingly, he birdied the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th, but took a bogey five on the 18th.
â€śI hit one that got away, and I was penalized for it in the right rough,â€ť he said of his tee shot. â€śI thought I hit a pretty good approach, but it was right on the edge of the rough, and I couldn't do much with it.â€ť
Hebert finished in a seventh-place tie (at seven-under 269) just a year ago at Wannamoisett, so he's confident about his chances entering today's final round.
â€śI've played well,â€ť he noted. â€śI got off to a hot start (Thursday), and â€“ excepting the bogey on 18 â€“ I finished hot (Friday). It makes it a lot more fun on the last day. I like playing here, and I think it can carry over. You do remember things like that, and I did think about it (prior to flying to the tourney). I drew positive vibes from it.
â€śI had the flat stick rolling for me a little bit, and I thought I hit a lot of good approaches. I think I only missed three fairways all day, all of them on the back nine, but I was never in serious trouble. The most trouble came on the 18th. My chip was against the high rough, and I couldn't get to it, but I'm playing good. I want to keep it up.â€ť