Garden City's Taylor Larsen has share of lead after Day 2.

6/5/2014

By BRETT MARSHALL

By BRETT MARSHALL

bmarshall@gctelegram.com

Today's final round of the AJGA Kansas Junior Championship at Buffalo Dunes will be a little bit like defending home turf, at least for Garden City's Taylor Larsen.

The sophomore-to-be at Garden City High School finds himself tied for first heading into the last day of the 54-hole tourney following a Wednesday round of 1-over-par 73 that left him at 3-over-par for the 36-holes completed.

He's tied with Tate Tatom of Gallatin Gateway, Mont., who was one of three players who shared the opening day lead after an even-par 72. Tatom, though, shot a 3-over-par 75 to end up all square with Larsen. And the Dunes is one of his two Larsen's courses, playing there during the spring prep season with the Buffaloes.

The duo hold a one-shot lead over another first round co-leader in Griffin Barela of Lakewood, Colo., who was at 148 after a 76 on Wednesday. Austin Murphy of Morgan Hill, Calif., is another shot back at 149 after a stellar even-par round of 72.

Three more players are tied for fifth at 150, including Michael Hodson of Amarillo, Texas, first-round co-leader Zachary Hoskins of Orlando, Fla., and Jorey Knutson of Amarillo.

Neither Larsen or Tatom has been in this position, let alone claimed a victory in an AJGA event, so they are both entering unchartered waters. But they are waters that both say they are glad to be riding the wave of, playing steady golf through two grueling days of dealing first with 30-40 mph southerly wind on Tuesday, and then 25 mph northerly wind with gusts up to 35 mph on Wednesday. Two days, two different wind directions, same course, but certainly a course that played quite the opposite on each day.

"You've still got hard and easy holes, it's just that they're different," Larsen said after completing his round. "The harder holes were downwind today, the easier holes into the wind made them play harder. I think the north wind makes the course more difficult."

Larsen's round included four birdies and five bogeys, yet Larsen said it was his short game that once again came to his rescue. One day after taking just 26 putts, he fashioned a round with 27 putts, despite only hitting eight greens in regulation.

"Oh yes, definitely the short game," Larsen said when asked about the strength of his round. "Early, I hit the ball well. Later, I hit it into the weeds (on 13, 14 and 15). I was just trying to get it into play. It was hard to do that."

He opened with a birdie on the par-5 first, but gave it back with a bogey on the par-4 third, a hole usually playing downwind, but went into the teeth of the northeasterly wind. Bogeys at the sixth and eighth holes left him at 2-over-par at the turn.

"I made really good saves (for par) on the ninth and 10th holes, and that probably kept the round going," Larsen said. "I had just come off bogeys, and then I had those two good up and downs."

On the incoming nine, he had bogeys at the 11th and 18th, but stayed in the thick of the chase with birdies at the 13th, 16th and 17th holes.

"Had an 8-iron to about 25 feet on No. 16 and then hit a 9-iron to about 10 feet on No. 17, and made the putts," Larsen said. "Was disappointed a little to bogey 18, but it was still a good, solid round."

As far as how heading into the final round tied for the lead felt, Larsen just shook his head.

"Really couldn't tell since I've never been in this position," he said. "There is pressure, but you just go out and play, strike the ball, go putt. Just play golf. That's what you want to do."

And how did he anticipate getting some rest overnight before the final round?

"Well, if I do sleep, it will be different than last night (Tuesday)," Larsen said with a smile. "I didn't sleep too well last night."

Tatom said he was pleased to be in contention in searching for his first AJGA win.

"It feels just as good as yesterday (Tuesday) and I just plan to go out and play and see what happens," Tatom said. "Things didn't go as well today because the wind changed, and I had to change my game plan. You make a plan, and then it throws you off."

Tatom said now that he has played the course with the wind blowing from both the north and south, he felt confident about Thursday's final round.

"Now I know what to hit, what club to choose," Tatom said. "The north wind makes the par-3s easier, but the other holes are so much harder. It's completely different. The backstretch of holes are just way harder."

The majority of Tatom's round was consistent, as he made four birdies and four bogeys. What deterred him from an even better round (75) was the fact he made triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 ninth, which was playing straight into the teeth of the wind.

"That threw me off big time," Tatom said. "There was a time out there where I wondered whether I could still do this, and I assumed I was out of it. When I came in and saw the scores, I just couldn't believe it."

Battling the wind is a test of nerves, mental toughness and a bit of tenacity.

"I tried to fight for every stroke out there," Tatom said. "Now I know both wind directions. Either way, there are hard and easy holes. It just switches. I've had a lot of success in other tournaments, so if I win, it's great. But if I don't, it's not the end of the world. I'm just glad to be out of the cold and the snow of Montana. I came down here with the goal of just playing good golf."

Garden City's other entrant, Daniel Gaspar, had a second-round score of 84, leaving him in a tie for 63rd at 167.

Results in Scoreboard, Page B2.

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