Shootout expected in Dogwood’s final round

If Friday’s set-up at the Dogwood Invitational was described as challenging but fair by tournament chairman Edward Toledano, and Saturday’s final-round conditions are predicted to be tough but fair, then the tournament record set last year could be in trouble.

Led by Mercer’s Trey Rule, who carded the low round of the day with a 9-under 63 and is 19 under for the tournament, at least two golfers have the record of 28 under set by Michael Johnson in their sights.

“If a player plays well enough to take the record, so be it,” Toledano said. “When you play a golf course that is in perfect condition on the fairways and the greens, you are going to score. You are going to be able to take the course and putt and score.”

And don’t think Rule can’t once again take advantage of the course to fire another 63 and reach 28 under. His 9 under Friday included three bogeys. He also posted 12 birdies, including four on the four par-5s, and three pars. He said he had never shot so low in a tournament.

“I love these greens, and I love the course,” Rule said. “It’s definitely a different feel to make a lot of birdies instead of grinding for pars as a lot of those amateur tournaments are. It’s a fun tournament, I’m loving it.”

Playing in the same group as Rule, Zach Seabolt followed Thursday’s 63 with a 65 and is one stroke back. Perhaps not with a chance to break the record, but still with a very good chance to win, is Georgia Tech’s Anders Albertson, who carded a 64 and is two behind Rule. Clemson’s Billy Kennerly, an Alpharetta native, signed for a 64 and is three shots behind the leader. Georgia State’s Davin White, who was tied with Seabolt for the third-round lead, carded a 68 and is four shots behind. Kennesaw State’s Jimmy Beck trails Rule by five shots.

But on a short, 6,860-yard course such as Druid Hills, that margin can be made up quickly unless Toledano is proved right and the course plays tougher than it has the past three days. The leaders will tee off at 10:48 a.m. Saturday.

Rule, a native of Eatonton, was dialed in with his short irons, putting several close on the front nine that he converted into birdies.

Other than saying everything in his swing felt good, the only thing Rule did differently Friday was sleep in until 8 a.m., giving himself slightly more than two hours to prepare for his 10:15 a.m. tee time.

“I’ll approach it the same way, make a few more putts and hit a few more close shots,” he said of Saturday.

Chasing him will be Albertson, who is playing in his fifth Dogwood and said he badly wants to win the event.

“I’ve been close before, it’s kind of a home tournament for me,” he said. “It would mean a lot, but I’m treating each day the same and it all starts over tomorrow.”

Seabolt, who plays at Winthrop, echoed Albertson that he won’t change his strategy for tomorrow.

“It’s just golf again, I won’t worry about a number, I’ll just play my game,” he said.

Kennerly had the round of the day until Albertson and Rule trumped him. After struggling with his swing last season at Clemson — he said he couldn’t hit it very straight and the misses were inconsistent — he switched coaches from one he had for 10 years to Sugarloaf’s Mike Lipnick three weeks ago. The work is paying off.

“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “It’s a steppingstone into the end of the week. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”