LEWISTON – It was easy to see the sentimental favorite in the Porter Cup Friday. There were a lot of burnt-orange caps and longhorn logos among the several hundred fans at Niagara Falls Country Club.
They were not disappointed, because University of Texas star Gavin Hall put himself in position to win yet again. And once again, the Porter Cup is set up for a dramatic finish.
Hall, the 21-year-old phenom from Pittsford, stands in a four-way tie for first entering Saturday’s final round.
It’s Hall’s sixth and final appearance in the Porter Cup. He has finished in the top eight each of his previous five showings.
“This is right where I want to be, and what a crowd we have,” Hall said after shooting a 1-under-par 69 on the third round. “It's unbelievable.”
“I think it's just accumulated over the years,” Hall said, referring to the abundance of Texas gear. “It's a lot of fun. I had 15 or 20 people come from Rochester. That means a lot to me.”
Hall had his fingertips on the trophy last year before Australian Harrison Endycott stormed down the stretch to beat him by one shot.
Hall, ranked 33rd in the world, is the top-rated player among the leaders, but he has worthy challengers.
Also at 5-under are Georgia Tech senior-to-be Chris Petefish, 22-year-old Australian Travis Smyth and Stanford junior-to-be Brandon Wu. The final group tees off at 10:50 a.m.
Petefish – pronounced just the way it looks (peet-fish) – is a 22-year-old who didn’t have a great spring season for the Yellow Jackets. But the 6-foot, 165-pounder has been sensational the past three months on the amateur circuit. He was won the Azalea in South Carolina, placed second at the Monroe in Rochester, was 24th at the Sunnehanna in Pennsylvania and made the semifinals of the North-South Amateur in North Carolina. He also qualified for the U.S. Amateur.
“It has been my putting that's really gone right,” Petefish said. “I've gone back to the way I used to play golf when I was younger. I'd really score well with wedges and my putting. I decided I just needed to get back to how I've played my best golf. It's really worked. It's more of a mentality on how to approach the game. Be the best putter I can be.”
Smyth – pronounced smahyth – is the No. 2 ranked Aussie Amateur and stands 36th in the world. He was runner-up for the Australian Amateur in 2016 and was a quarterfinalist this year. He tied for 11th in stroke play at the recent British Amateur and tied for 14th at the Scottish Amateur.
Smyth, 6-3 and 187, will turn pro and play in the European Tour qualifying school in September. He’s hoping to raise his world ranking to 15th the next couple weeks to get a bye into the second round of Q-school qualifying.
“My game feels awesome,” Smyth said. “I'm putting great. If I can just get on the right side of the holes and give myself some good uphill putts, I think I'll run away with it. But it's a hard job because they've been sticking the flags on these little slopes. You don't want to get too cute to the edges of these greens because there's deep rough.”
Wu, 20, was the No. 3 player on the Stanford team this year after making second team all-Pac 12 as a freshman. He was born in California, lived in Beijing for five years and prepped at a boarding school in Massachusetts.
“I stuck to the game plan, hit a lot of fairways, and I'll try to do the same thing tomorrow,” Wu said.
The Lewiston course is playing tough, thanks to thick rough and fast greens. Only 11 of 70 players broke par on the third round. Five of the past six years the winning score was 11-under or better.
“The golf course is the hardest I've ever seen it with the rough like this,” Hall said.
“A lot of pins were tucked in tough spots where the smart play was to hit 20 feet from the hole and see if you could roll one in,” Petefish said. “You really had to play smart and hit aggressive shots to conservative targets.”
Canadian Luke Moser stands 3-under. Endycott four back at 1-under. The low Buffalo-area player was Ben Reichert of Williamsville North and East Tennessee State. He stands tied for 43rd at 10-over.