DANIELS — All day long, leaders faltered, big names stumbled and the Cobb Course at the Resort at Glade Springs had its way with the field at the 87th West Virginia Open.
But as the afternoon wave made the turn and headed for home, one player found a way to thrive in a sea of adversity.
As Thadd Obecny put it, “It was time to go.”
Obecny shot a 4-under-par 32 on the back nine to overcome a 2-over front nine in surging into the lead after the second round on Wednesday. Wheeling’s Obecny (minus-3) will have a three-shot cushion over a four-way tie for second place between Nick Fleming, Cole Moore, Mason Williams and first-round leader Kenny Hess at the start of Thursday’s final round.
“I was just kind of nervous on the front for some reason,” Obecny said. “You can’t play nervous the whole time, you’ve got to go swing the club.”
Obecny, who shot a 1-under 71 on Tuesday, was 1 over for the tournament as he stepped onto the 10th tee box. But an eagle at the par-5 12th and a birdie at the 13th sparked a back-nine run that vaulted him to the front of the field on a day that no one else could seem to find much of anything on the Cobb.
“I’m just going to get a good night’s sleep and focus on hitting good shots tomorrow,” Obecny said. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow, I’m just going to fight.”
Obecny, a former standout at Wheeling Park and a former college golfer at Coastal Carolina, is now early in his young professional career. He was one of very few to walk off of the course happy despite some promising starts on Wednesday.
Christian Brand, a two-time winner of the State Open making his first appearance since 2016, started hot in the morning wave, grabbing sole possession of the lead at 4 under after 11 holes.
But Brand bogeyed the par-3 third hole (his 12th) and then calamity ensued on the fourth. Brand shanked an approach shot out of bounds right and, after dropping, blocked it right again into the trees. His pitch attempt from there struck a tree and ricocheted straight down and, eventually, it resulted in a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 hole that pushed him from a tie for the lead to five shots back.
Brand will enter Thursday at 2 over par and certainly isn’t out of it, but one hole left him with plenty of work to do.
“It was in a hole on the left side and I had to hook it around a tree and I shanked it, had to drop in the same spot, shanked it again,” Brand said. “It was a mess, it just happened. Other than that, I shot 3 under today. I can’t do anything about it, I just have to make birdies tomorrow.”
Hess, who shot an opening 3-under 69 Tuesday, double-bogeyed his first hole (the 10th) to fall back into a tie for first. From there, the lead volleyed between Hess, Obecny, Moore and Fleming, a recent graduate of Petersburg High School who will attend Wingate next year.
Hess rallied to get back to 3 under and sole possession of the lead, but his hole of death turned out to be the par-5 fifth, where he hit a tee shot out of bounds and then four-putted for a triple-bogey.
“That was a good hole,” he said with a laugh. “I have a horrible excuse, but as soon as I started my downswing a bug flew right in front of my face and I flinched.
“The golf course is awkward. The greens are super soft so the ball is spinning weird. Anyone over 100 pounds is making footprints and the ball doesn’t stay on line. Downhill it got quick, uphill it was slow, it was just awkward. And the wind is very swirly. I feel like we played the entire back nine into the wind.”
While everyone else seemed to be bouncing up and down, Williams, the reigning West Virginia Amateur champion, was steady and quiet, carding a second-straight round of even par.
Williams, a 20-year-old rising junior at Georgia Southern, is attempting to win both of the West Virginia Golf Association’s biggest titles within the same year. It would be an impressive feat to be sure, but one thing is certain — Williams has already proven to have the ability to come up with his best when he needs it most. He shot a 6-under-par 66 on the Meadows Course at The Greenbrier at last year’s State Amateur to get into a playoff and then emerged from a three-man tussle with Philip Reale and Woody Woodward to claim the trophy.
Whether that experience will help him on Thursday remains to be seen.
“The good part about golf is that we all start at zero at the beginning of the day,” Williams said. “It’s just playing it one hole at a time and not getting too far ahead of yourself, because you can go out wanting to make eight birdies and make one and still feel like you played pretty good. Let the chips fall. I can only do my part.”
Eleven-time champion David Bradshaw, who has won the last four West Virginia Opens, didn’t have any major gaffes but managed just a 1-over 73 and sits at 4 over for the tournament, seven shots back of Obecny.
There are 20 players within seven shots of the lead, including a who’s-who of West Virginia golf.
Obecny is fully aware of that fact, and he’s been in this situation before as he played in the final group with Bradshaw and Williams two years ago.
As to what Obecny took away from that experience, he said he’s just going to keep pushing until the final hole.
“I learned to fight till the end, if you bogey the first you have 17 more,” Obecny said. “These guys aren’t on tour, they make bad swings, I make bad swings and any of these guys can make birdie at any time. I’m just going to go out and fight like crazy tomorrow.”
Pat Carter, the 13-time West Virginia Amateur champion, shot 1 over for the day and is 1 over for the tournament, in solo possession of sixth place. He will play with Fleming and Moore in the final day’s penultimate group.
Kermit’s Davey Jude bogeyed each of his last three holes to fall from even par to 3 over.